Dear Umbra,

You are my only hope! I need help with trophies. Not trophy boyfriends or bass fishing trophies, but a large collection of wood and metal trophies that I have accrued due to a high school career rife with geeky accomplishment.

My mom, who has graciously housed these trophies up ’til now, has finally wised up. Instead of looking upon the trophies and dreaming that her daughter will one day be a neurosurgeon, she now understands that the trophies are just gathering dust while I gallivant about the world, not performing any neurosurgery at all. She wants to throw them out. Unless I can give her a reasonable recycling option, they will go in the dumpster.

Any advice on how to recycle them?

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S.R. (spelling bee champ, class of ’88)
Washington, D.C.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Dearest S.R.,

You would have to perform some neurosurgery on your trophies to learn their chemical composition. Depending on how much of a spelling bee champ you were and the tax base of your school district, they may be chintzy little assemblages of gold-painted plastic resting on a plaster base to add prize-winning heft — or they may contain actual wood and marble. (Actual metal is less likely.)

Let’s go back to the 3 Rs, our guide in every environmental situation. You can’t reduce, since you have already been showered with the rewards of geekdom (and anyway only the boldest highschooler would stand up at an awards ceremony and stage a Useless Trinket Protest). You can’t recycle the materials at curbside no matter how good your local recycling program, since the plastic is both painted and unlikely to be one of the accepted varieties. That leaves us with reuse — by far the most fun option.

Trophy shops don’t generally reuse trophies, which easily show wear and tear. The only thing worse than confronting your failure to become a neurosurgeon as a 30-something is receiving a dinged trophy as a 13-year-old. You or your mom could take your trophies to a thrift store, where they have a hope for a second life, or you could bust them up into their various components and creatively use the bases for paperweights. You could also call your local chapter of the Special Olympics, which sometimes accepts donated trophies and awards, and see if they have any need for them.

But here’s my favorite idea: wacky gifts for your loved ones! Your friends might not be able to match your spelling prowess, but I’m sure they would appreciate silly awards for their own accomplishments: Comfiest Sofa, Best Pie, Queen of Non Sequiturs. A little glitter, bric-a-brac, superglue, and acrylic paint could easily turn that debate trophy into a loving commemoration of Uncle Rudolph’s bad jokes. The capper, of course, would be an award for your mother. I’ll leave the name of that one up to you.