by Eileen Weber
I hear the aching crack as the wood slats are torn from their sockets, like the gaping maw of a pulled tooth. As the remnants hit the inside of the metal dumpster, there is a deep thud sounding much like a low moan from the weight of it. The waste piles up, day after day. I feel an inner cringe…
That’s just a little taste of what it’s like to have your kitchen renovated. While I’m pleased with the final result, I’m wondering if the end justifies the means. Every day, more junk got thrown into that dumpster than I would like to admit. The final resting place would, of course, be a landfill. And there it will sit. And sit. And sit.
I take some comfort in the fact that I had my fir flooring salvaged. (Joe DeRisi from Hamden’s Urbanminers helped me out. I had written an article about him previously on this site and I knew he did what he called “deconstruction.”) I also used Green Demolitions to remove the old cabinetry and appliances. The donation will be a tax write-off.
I also felt less guilty about eating off reusable picnic paraphernalia that I hand washed, which certainly cut down on the amount of garbage we were throwing out. And, the majority of our meals were eat-in rather than take-out.
But even with that, we more than occasionally used plastic utensils. (I foolishly packed up my silverware having no idea which box they were in. Same thing with the linen napkins.) Whether it was the dumpster or my 13-gallon garbage can, the amount of waste was a little frightening.
When I throw things out, I always think about where it’s going. It makes my chest tighten up a bit if I see something discarded when it shouldn’t be.
I’ve written about landfills before on this site. Two years ago, there was a conflict over relocating an ash landfill that was closing in Hartford. It was scheduled to move to Franklin near a recreational park. Needless to say, the residents were none too happy about it and fought the referendum. They won. But the landfill issue doesn’t usually have a happy ending.
Incinerated municipal waste is one thing. But construction debris, or C&D waste named for construction and demolition, can be dumped with the municipal solid waste coming from most households. It can also be sent to specific C&D landfills, but those are all out of state. So all that junk—much of which could probably be recycled—gets carted away with noxious fumes in tow.
According to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, an estimated 15% to 20% of construction debris gets mixed in with the municipal waste. Of that construction waste, only seven percent is reported as recycled.
But wait, there’s more. The Clean Air Council provides even scarier statistics: Only two manmade structures can be seen from space—the Great Wall of China and the Fresh Kills landfill in New York. That landfill is set to close and is only being kept open for any remaining debris from the World Trade Center’s attack on 9/11. Since 1979, we have had an 84% decrease in the number of landfills open in the U.S. while our generated trash has increased by 80%. Oh and by the way, U.S. landfills are closing at a rate of one per day.
Maybe we should all take the example of one man in Texas. According to a September 2, 2009 article in The New York Times, Dan Philips takes leftover materials from construction sites and builds new homes. Old shingles, mismatched bricks, ceramic tile shards. You name it; he’ll use it. As of last year, he had built 14 houses in his hometown of Huntsville mostly intended for low-income families.
Whether it’s plastic packaging or wood shingles from your renovation, the things we throw out pile up somewhere. They either have to be reused or wait for a slow biodegradable death, possibly hundreds of years from now.
Perhaps I will think twice when it comes to my next home improvement project…