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The Boston Globe

Opinion

SCOT LEHIGH

Boston’s trashy treasures

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If you have a bit of the scavenger in you — and who among us doesn’t? — a walk through a Boston neighborhood on trash day can make you rueful.

All that useful stuff, destined for destruction in the great churning maw of the trash truck, leaves me with a sense of lost opportunity. (Of clutter uncollected, a certain member of my household would say — but that’s an unkind view.)

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Whenever people move, the sidewalk becomes a repository of end tables, lamps, beds, desks, mattresses, and the like. Other times, a furniture upgrade means the ouster of a perfectly serviceable bookcase or set of kitchen chairs.

And then there’s an entire category of discards that would be fine with some simple repairs.

Sometimes it’s just a frayed cord or broken switch that needs replacing. Other times, it’s merely a matter of a strategically placed screw or two or just some glue.

And that’s to say nothing of the prints, posters, and frames discarded on a regular basis. Or the speakers and electronic equipment that someone’s new sound system has made redundant.

Most of the discards aren’t heirloom-quality, obviously, but they are often things that would be fine for a basement rec room or guest room or a student’s dorm. (Here, I speak from experience. Over the years, I’ve cut down a thick wooden door and pressed it into use in our cellar, reglued and repainted a half-dozen kitchen chairs for summer-cottage use, rewired several lamps, and lined a cellar wall with reclaimed bookshelves.)

It’s always struck me as a shame that in a city as smart as ours, we spend taxpayers’ money crunching things that could have years of use left in them. And that brings me to an idea for the new city administration: A program to rescue, repair, and recycle the many useful items that are currently consigned to the trash-heap of history.

It could be called the TREASURE (Things Repaired, Enhanced, Amended, Saved, Updated, and Recycled) program. Here’s how it would work: The city would find among its various facilities a few places where people could drop off items they no longer need. Bostonians could also call or e-mail to arrange a pickup of worthwhile items. Meanwhile, the trash trucks and passersby could report other discards worth saving.

Volunteers led by some handymen adept at basic repairs could do the fixes necessary to restore damaged discards to functional status. Such a program might even provide an opportunity for teenagers and young adults to learn the repair skills people once picked up almost as a matter of course.

The redistribution part of the operation could probably work on a weekend schedule. People looking for a bookcase or lamp or bed frame or any number of others things could drop by on Saturday or Sunday to see what was available.

To help generate some dollars to support the program, the city could ask for a donation for each item a person took. The TREASURE facilities could include information about what a similar item would cost new and suggest that someone interested in having it contribute, say, 10 percent of that amount, with the understanding that they could pay less if they wanted.

Certain details would obviously have to be worked out. The program would need some start-up money and maybe a small ongoing budget. Or perhaps a civic altruist or two could adopt the idea and help make it happen. Meanwhile, it’s easy to imagine one of Boston’s service organizations making it a favored cause and thus helping provide volunteers. And some of the various causes currently given to holding walk-a-thons could shift their fundraising focus and instead help out collecting or repairing the discards.

If the program didn’t prove popular after a couple of years, it would be easy to shut down.

But my bet is that Bostonians would embrace it as a welcome improvement on our city’s current throw-away mentality.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.

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