Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Bathroom Built For Two

Do you know what’s clogging up our landfills more than all the disposable diapers and lunchable containers? Construction materials. They make up approximately 20-30% of the debris in our landfills depending on whose report you’re reading. This kind of amazes me because we aren’t allowed to toss out construction materials in our regular trash. I just assumed there was money to be made on pickup trucks full of construction trash and a special dump just for them. I admit we occasionally hide a piece of drywall or the remnants of a pressure treated 2 X 4 in the bottom of our trash bag, hoping some animal doesn’t get in to the garbage overnight and expose our crime before the garbage truck carts it off unawares.

We are in the midst of a bathroom renovation. The walls of our master bath have had a creeping mold that I have been battling since the day we moved in. Finally those walls are coming down thanks to my diatribe about the mold (either that or the fact that there is only one sink and I’m a bathroom hog of sorts). I remember reading about some couple who had stayed together and in love for 60 years and when they asked the wife what the secret was, she said she kept her bathroom business private. In all those years her husband had never seen her tinkle or put on deodorant or scrunch up her face to put on mascara. I like the idea of keeping my personal business private, but that’s impossible when you share a bathroom so moldy and tiny, you feel it’s dangerous to shut the door.

So last week we set to tearing out those walls. And while we were at it, we decided to add another sink and a real bath tub (claw feet and all!). But doing this created some serious construction debris. It was just like when I clean out the car. It’s really hard to believe all that stuff came out of such a small space. We had dry wall, framing boards, tile, insulation, and bathroom fixtures. But we also had pipes, electrical boxes, a beat up door plus its frame, a shower rod, and lights. In my mind, everything had to go, but it didn’t have to go to the dump.

We added most of the dry wall to our compost pile up in the woods. I read the pros and cons and decided that it’s basically inert materials (gypsum and paper, plus a little glue and maybe some fiberglass), so it will decompose with the right amount of moisture and time, especially if it’s broken down in to small pieces. Since we let the kids have at it with hammers, the dry wall was in really small pieces. I dumped it on our long term compost pile where the barn and yard waste cook.

I pulled hundreds of nails out of the framing wood and we are re-using it to frame the new bathroom. My husband dubbed me the “Queen of De-construction.” Most everything else – the tub, sink, cabinet, medicine chest, lights, even the toilet who’s cap I broke in the process of moving it out to the driveway, plus the door and the all the electrical plates, will be picked up next week by an organization called ReStore York where they will be used in low-income housing projects or sold to penny-wise builders to be repurposed in useful ways.

The tiles have been stacked neatly in the shed for the kids to paint and use to create pathways in the garden. In the end, there is really not that much headed for the dump -a little carpeting, some moldy insulation (all the non-moldy insulation we re-used), some concrete boards from around the tub and some sewer piping, plus lots of bent nails (although I’m still trying to figure out if they’ll recycle the steel).

We throw out way too many useful things in this country. I remember volunteering at an orphanage in Tijuana with a group of teens many years ago. There was a garbage dump nearby. The images of the people who lived in that dump are still clear to me -the aristocracy of the desperately poor with first dibs on all the stuff that was thrown out, salvaging everything, doing the work of scavenger birds as they climbed and dug and sorted. The next time you are tempted to throw out the appliance you no longer need or the light fixture that is outdated, pause and figure out if there is any use left in it. If there is, pass it on. This country is full of many needs – you just might be able to fill one. Here’s some resources to help you do that:

ReStore York 717-852-7574 – works with ReStore, but also welcomes your donations and time - online green building information – a website that allows you to search for businesses that rent, repair, or sell used products across Pennsylvania

If none of these organizations can help you, there’s always Craigslist or Freecycle.

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