When trash goes beyond the can


Living in an old house, and having done lots of remodeling, we’re familiar with the reality of construction waste. Nothing has ever distressed my thrifty soul like fillling a dumpster with tons of old insulation, broken lumber, dead appliances, and ruined furniture, but that is exactly what we had to do shortly after buying our place. There just weren’t a lot of options for getting rid of this stuff.

Of course, house parts that someone else can reuse are a whole different story. Sell on craigslist! Donate to the Habitat Store! Give away on freecycle! And we’re storing lots of material that we think we ourselves might someday use again. Much of it probably won’t ever have a second run in our place, but we think it’s worth storing it if that means not throwing it away.

Recently, we tore down a porch ceiling made of tongue-and-groove pine. Normally, a certain mode of thinking would have come into play: Do our best not to damage it too badly so that some of it, at least, could be saved. One could, for example, cut off the splintered parts and hang onto the rest. But this particular stuff had lead paint on it. This makes us much less willing to hang onto it, and certainly less willing to saw it (which would create lead dust).

So, off to the landfill it’ll go. What a shame. Along with asbestos siding, it’s one of the curses of having an old house. And it speaks to the fact that even a very widespread material–as lead paint was before the ’70s–can be really bad news. We can’t trust manufacturers to keep us safe; stuff that means profits for them can mean a terrible mess for the rest of us, decades into the future.

Has anyone else run into this problem? Got a creative solution?