MADISON — Working in the carpet cleaning business for 18 years has turned Sue LeJoy into a collector, environmentalist and most recently, the owner of a second-hand store.

When people move out of their homes, LeJoy, who owns Cole’s Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning in West Mills, is hired to do full house cleanings, which includes cleaning the carpets, washing the walls and floors and painting if it is needed. She said she is always surprised at how many things people leave behind, and so she started taking them home. She has found Christmas decorations, lamps, luggage, dishes and silverware, among other things.

“People throw out everything. I’m someone that cares about the environment, and I started accumulating some really nice stuff,” said LeJoy, 54, of West Mills.

Her collection, which for years was contained to her garage and friends’ garages, has now moved to a new store in Madison, where LeJoy said she hopes to resell most of what she has collected in an effort to encourage recycling.

The motto of the West Side store on Madison Avenue is “customer,” a rough acronym that LeJoy said stands for Cool Used Stuff TO Make people Reuse and Recycle.

“I’m trying to do a service to the community and save the landfills. A lot of this stuff honestly would just get thrown out,” she said.

Reuse is valued by many Maine residents, but there is little tracking of materials that are exchanged, according to a 2011 report by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The materials are exchanged through nationally established or local reuse stores, yard sales or long-standing traditions like passing down clothing between relatives, which the department also lists as a form of reuse.

The report estimates that about 725,577 households in Maine each reuse an average of 100 pounds of products each year. This adds up to about 36,200 tons or two percent of Maine’s recycling.

Victor Horton, executive director of the Maine Resource Recovery Association, an organization that promotes recycling and other environmentally friendly solid waste disposal practices, said that many charities and municipalities have stores that run on missions similar to West Side that are called swap shops, although they most often run on donations. LeJoy said that she will accept a limited number of donations but mostly rely on her carpet cleaning finds and searches of abandoned storage units for new sales.

Collectively, Horton said he believes stores such as West Side can make an impact on reducing solid waste. There is also a benefit to the consumer or swap shop shopper, he said.

“It’s often cheaper. You might not necessarily find an antique but it’s a good place to try a new activity. For example, finding a pair of skis if you have never skied before and want to try it,” he said.

About 1.7 million tons of municipal waste was generated in Maine in 2011, the most recent data available from the state Department of Environmental Protection, according to spokeswoman Jessamine Logan.

About 368,774 tons of that ended up in in-state landfills, according to a department report.

Logan said that the department supports businesses that divert waste from landfills.

LeJoy said she has about five busloads of things to sell at the West Side building. The spot, a former plumbing supply warehouse, is the building of her dreams, she said because it is big enough to drive into.

LeJoy said she tries not to hoard too much in her own home, but has kept a few items over the years, including a set of dishes with bears and deer on them and a collection of early 20th century hardcover books with embossed covers.

She is also the former owner of a store by the same name in West Farmington that she ran from 2009 to 2011. That store, which had a similar vision but was in a tiny two-story house, closed because the owner wanted to convert the building back to a home.

She said she never thought about opening second-hand stores before, but that the business perfectly complements carpet cleaning and that she hopes people are able to find joy out of what she sees as a win-win situation — sending customers home with something they can reuse and minimizing landfill waste.

“People are pretty happy when they find a little gem. Especially those that don’t have a lot of money, I think it satisfies them,” she said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
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