“My house doesn’t have enough storage space.” Sound familiar? Capitol Hill houses are notorious for being small with a dearth of closets. Hill residents are adroit at using every nook and cranny – installing storage pockets next to air-conditioning ducts and even under stair treads. But sometimes, “stuff” just has to go away.
If it isn’t yard-sale-worthy, or if you just don’t have time to deal with the goods, what do you do? 1-800-GOT-JUNK? provides an answer. And you may be surprised to learn that this multinational chain has both a local and an environmental bent.
Brian Scudamore, a university dropout, started hauling “junk” in 1989 in Canada. He hit on a niche market. 1-800-GOT-JUNK? has grown exponentially and now operates over 200 locations in the US, Canada and Australia. His business has become so successful that Scudamore has expanded his operations to three new companies: Wow 1 Day Painting, You Move Me and most recently Shack Shine, and a $350 million dollar annual empire.
Gregory Frank is the co-owner of the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchise that serves parts of Maryland and Washington, DC. He came up through the company’s ranks and has owned his franchise for several years. He’s enthusiastic about the company and its environmental efforts. “We recycle the recyclables and donate the donatables to local organizations. In the DC area, we partner with a host of organizations from A Wider Circle to Community Forklift and many local nonprofits in between.” Items that are truly trash are sent to facilities that ship to a powerplant in Dickerson, Md., where they are burned to generate the steam to power the facility for waste-to-energy (WTE) conversion. Taking anything to the landfill is the last resort.
1-800-GOT-JUNK? advertises that it has kept more than 5.8 million pounds of junk out of landfills. The company aspires to a recycling goal of 75 percent but averages 60-65 percent. From an environmental perspective, it’s worth noting that any materials used as WTE are not considered part of the company’s recycling rate.
Company staff are trained to pack the truck according to its destination. There’s no central sorting center; once the truck leaves your home or business, it’s on its way to a donation or recycling center. Given this business model, customers need to be certain that they’re ready to part with an item, as the likelihood of being able to retrieve it is very slim. (Frank regrets those phone calls!)
The 1-800-GOT-JUNK? website provides easy scheduling for pick up, or you can call the 24-hour call center to speak with a company representative. Fees are based on the space the junk takes up on the back of a truck. The company’s business model includes a no-obligation, on-site quote. Per Frank, “Once the client is happy with the price, we take our hats off, put our gloves on, and start making the junk disappear.”
But Frank and the company as a whole recognize that they’re often being called into a home at an awkward and even sad transition point. “When we’re called to a home, we’re walking into people’s lives, removing items that may have belonged to a deceased or ailing parent or into a household that’s going through a move. Removing belongings can be very emotional for people. Our staff is very sensitive to this reality, and we try to help people work through the situation.”
And what sort of junk does the service take? Per the website, it takes anything “non-hazardous that two strong, able-bodied crew members can lift.” This includes appliances, mattresses, bicycles, yard waste, construction material and even food. Frank notes, “We need any food to be prepped for composting. Here on the East Coast, we find ourselves educating clients about how to prepare food for composting, whereas on the West Coast, clients tend to be more attuned to composting.”
According to Frank, over the years, the company has picked up many “interesting” items including John Wayne’s personal Bible, 50 garden gnomes, 18,000 cans of expired sardines, a trophy from a nudist colony and a truckload of denture molds to name a few. In DC, they’ve even come across bags of foreign money. “We’ve found some very interesting – and even unprintable things in those Capitol Hill rowhouse nooks and crannies! You’d be surprised to see some of the stuff people hold onto.”
Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer and a blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler. She is also a board member of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, but the perspectives expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.