My least favorite sign of the season is upon us, and this year it feels worse than ever. The Swap Shop is closed for winter at the Mid-Coast Solid Waste transfer station, and that means that anything loaded into the car for a dump run is all out of second chances.

Even though I knew it was happening, and discussed it with the volunteers ahead of time, I was still surprised when I showed up and found the place empty. What was I going to do with the contents overflowing from my back seat? I had been counting on the emotional release of passing them along with the peace of mind that I wasn’t being wasteful.

Putting them back in the basement was not an option I could let myself succumb to but I was in a pickle because I really needed the room in my car and didn’t have much time. Goodwill is always my go-to for guilt-free drop off when I’m in a hurry and unsure how desirable my items are. But lately, the cones have been up every time I try to get through the donation drive thru.

That seems to be the trend these days… too saturated with donations and not enough employees to sort through them.

A DVD player, a kiddie pool, some very nice picture frames, a very nice but slightly stained backpack that had belonged to my sister, children’s books, and a bunch of brand new shoes that someone had donated for Syria relief not knowing that we are now only taking medical supplies.

In front of my house on Mechanic Street with a free sign is often a good way of being sure that everything gets one last chance at usefulness before being tossed, but wind and rain were coming.

It’s the dilemma that many face trying not to let things go to waste. Yes, there are many good places to donate, but not always the time to track them each down and coordinate.

There’s the SOS room at the Congregational Church and the Habitat for Humanity Restore and the Salvation Army. There are also any number of donation connections that can be found by posting something on a Facebook group and asking.

These are all things we should be doing, but sometimes, even for those of us who obsess over these things, there’s just no time. Sometimes we just need the item gone and we need it to be easy. That’s what the Swap Shop is meant to be. Not as an alternative to all the worthy causes that often solicit tangible goods, but an option for those times when you just don’t know or don’t have the time.

There’s a long continuum of personalities when it comes to the way that things come and go from our lives. Some can throw something in the trash without a second thought about whether the plastic bottle belongs in the recycling or that unflattering jacket could be just the ticket for someone else.

The same people who will meticulously separate their soup cans from their detergent bottles sometimes think nothing of tossing an antique door in the landfill, complete with the hardware.

There are so many reasons that people stop at the Swap Shop. Sometimes they leave junk that will ultimately have to be disposed of, and that’s why we ask people to pay a small fee when they leave large items. That helps keep the Swap Shop from being simply a way around paying the fees that keep the transfer station running.

But most people just want to make sure that they’re giving their items one last chance, and the vast majority of what is left does have value to someone. It also has a value to the planet in the form of the energy emitted in order to mine, produce, transport, or manufacture it.

Whenever possible, reuse is always better than recycling.

And that brings me to the elephant at the transfer station. Why do we keep recycling going all year long, rain or shine, but the reuse aspect of our facility is seasonal and run by volunteers?

The state waste management hierarchy emphasizes a simple set of principles for dealing with waste in a sustainable way, ranging from the most preferred to the least preferred options: Reduce, Reuse, and then Recycle, followed by disposal options like waste to energy (incineration for electricity production) and landfilling as a last resort.

There are many reasons for this and most people know them intuitively, but how would people react if the transfer station closed down its recycling program for the winter? I don’t expect it would go very well. But on any given day, the trash compactors near the exit of the facility are filled with all kinds of things that still had usefulness but no one had to time to fix or evaluate and the scrap metal contains lamps, bed frames, beams, and other highly usable items.

Recycling is good, but it takes energy to tear things up, melt them down, and manufacture the product into something new. This summer, the Regeneration program took in bikes, lawn mowers, and other small engines and fixed them up and sold them to the public at a fraction of the cost that they would be new. It was a great compliment to the Swap Shop, but it too is seasonal.

A year-round reuse and repair component of our transfer station has long been requested by residents, but it’s not reasonable to ask our core group of volunteers to keep the operation going all winter long with no heat and an unsuitable space.

We invest taxpayer money in running all other aspects of our shared transfer station and it seems to me that Reuse deserves to be prioritized at least as much as recycling considering its place on the waste hierarchy and the potential for getting useful items into the hands of the people who need them.

I should also mention that I am a board member for Mid-Coast Solid Waste, one of two representatives from Camden, and I serve with members from Hope, Lincolnville, and Rockport. I am also a member of Waste Watch, which is a small group of recycling and reuse enthusiasts interested transfer station and swap shop matters. I’m not speaking for anyone other than myself, officially, but if you are interested in getting involved as a Swap Shop volunteer or learning more about the transfer station, feel free to send me an email at

Alison McKellar is a Camden resident and member of the Select Board. Her views are her own and do not reflect those of the Select Board.