Recycling remodel waste

Q: I eat organic foods, recycle, and conserve energy, but I’ve found that I’m throwing away a lot of garbage during my home remodel. How can I avoid undoing all the good I’ve done?

A: From 1973 to 2003, the Garbage Project at the University of Arizona in Tucson studied the anthropology of landfills. The program’s book on the matter, Rubbish! (University of Arizona Press, 2001), reported that together with paper, construction and demolition debris makes up more than half of all landfills in America. To combat this heaping problem, local organizations have made a strong showing across the country to aid citizens in doing their part to reuse and recycle during a home project. Following are some tips.


  • Intact items: If you can’t reuse sinks, shower doors, and cabinets, contact salvage operations to see if they can take them off of your hands. A good resource for finding local services is www.earth911.com, or check with your local solid waste utility.

  • Wood: Wood can be reclaimed almost anywhere. If you hire a salvage company to do your reclamation work (another good idea), it can pull out full, reusable pieces of lumber. Otherwise, get a hold of a wood chipper and make mulch (if the wood isn’t painted).

  • Drywall: Many states recycle it. Search for availability or, as suggested by Jenna Kunde of WasteCap Wisconsin, bury the pulverized and paint-free board in your garden. The gypsum inside is nearly identical to that which farmers use as soil amendment. (Do a soil test, so you can find a good application rate for your garden.)

  • Metal: The metal market is hot right now, and there’s no shortage of places that will take items such as pipes and conduits off of your hands. A quick flip through the yellow pages will yield dozens of takers.

  • Carpet: Few local carpet-recycling centers exist, but state-sponsored websites, such as the California Integrated Waste Management Board (www.ciwmb.ca.gov), may be helpful. If recycling is cost-prohibitive due to shipping expenses, consider replacing your old carpet with greener flooring options such as wood, bamboo, or old-fashioned linoleum. If you still wish to go with carpet, try modular varieties that can be replaced in pieces.

This Ask the Expert is written by Steven Luff, a Los Angeles–based freelance writer specializing in health, the environment, government regulation, and social concerns.