Constructing a Better Environment

The Los Angeles Times ran a story recently about illegal dumping in neighborhoods in South Central Los Angeles.  It seems funds and manpower diverted from public works to fight crime in the city have lead to severe delays in picking up trash and refuse dumped in the streets, causing an increase in illegal dumping in some less fortunate neighborhoods.

The Times offers two reasons. One, a rather interesting if perhaps city specific idea – L.A. gangs are known to block alley ways and streets with refuse (items like furniture, junk cars, appliances) to slow down police. The second is dumping by building contractors who leave construction debris in public places for municipal cleanup in order to avoid the costs of disposing of it themselves. 

Illegal dumping, unfortunately, is quite common in the construction industry, according to Mary Wilson of Pennsylvania Cleanways. The illegal dumping, or “midnight dumping” problem, is often complicated. As a result, and because much illegal dumping happens traditionally in rural or underprivileged areas, well meaning, green minded folks can inadvertently contribute to illegal dump sites without even knowing.

Considering the popularity of home remodeling, the temptation to dump construction debris may be getting to more of us.  If you’re dedicated to a true neutral existence, and are planning a construction project, there are a few ways to ensure that debris from your next home improvement project doesn’t wind up in a rural ravine, in a vacant city lot, or even in someone’s yard.

For true do-it-yourselfers, do your homework. 

1. Build the cost of debris disposal into your budget.  Call your nearest landfill to calculate tonnage fees so you’re prepared when taking construction waste to the site for disposal. Or simply have a dumpster or roll-off box delivered to your construction site, and picked up when you’re done.  Check out Dumpster.com for an easy online option for ordering.

2. Consider opportunities to recycle, and look around your area for centers and organizations that encourage the reuse of architectural items.  This works particularly well if you’re remodeling or dismantling a vintage home. Architectural salvagers will often accept and in some cases even pay for older wood moldings, railings, doors, cabinets, and flooring. There are also markets for older house fixtures like sinks, door knobs, fireplace mantles, cabinet pulls, etc.

But don’t think you need an old house to recycle.  Someone may be interested in your kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanity, carpet remnants, appliances, furniture, light fixtures, and mirrors if they are still in good shape. Some places will even accept unused wallpaper rolls, unopened cans of paint and the like. Some communities have construction depots that accept salvage and resell it to do-it-yourselfers or contractors. If your community doesn’t have a salvage depot,  look into places like Goodwill and Web communities like Freecycle.

3. Know what your municipal waste hauler will and will not accept.  In most cases, don’t expect yard waste and soils, major appliances, and furniture to get picked up during regular service.  Depending on the contract your municipality has with your waste hauler, it’s unlikely your curbside pickup will accept construction debris – even the smallest or what may seem to be the most benign scrap. 

And there are good reasons.  According to Lynn Brown, spokeswoman for Waste Management, Inc., some materials can be damaging to refuse trucks, including compaction blades, hydraulics, and side walls. Construction waste can also be dangerous to drivers and waste workers – some materials can be injurious to workers lifting them into trucks, and others, under the pressure of truck crushers can create harmful projectiles.  Browns says in some areas, construction debris is not permitted in local landfills at all, and that most residents are not aware that there are limits on the amount of trash that can placed at the curb for pickup.

Wilson says some larger communities have special contracts for larger items – check in with your local public works department.  Some municipalities also have special pick ups for larger, hard-to-dispose-of items, or schedule pick ups by appointment.

4, Metals are sought after these days. Scrap dealers are quite interested in larger appliances (not refrigerators) for their metal value, and can help you defray remodeling costs.  Some will even pick up. But be sure your dealer is licensed and not simply taking payment and dumping your washer or dryer over a hill side. You also may want to check with your state environmental agency to make sure your dealer is reputable as well as licensed.  Scrap metal collection can be a front for junkyard operators and is often a contributing factor to the growth of such established dumps and the development of new ones.

5. Home improvement projects can generate what is commonly referred to as household hazardous waste.  These items include unused portions of paints and stains, paint strippers, chemical cleaners, thinners, and other items that should not be tossed in your curbside trash, or washed down a drain (they can pollute waterways and cause serious problems in the wastewater treatment process).  For a complete list, visit http://www.epa.gov/garbage/hhw-list.htm.

To dispose of these items, check around your area for a household hazardous waste collection day.  Most event carry a small fee for disposal, and you’ll likely have to wait in line to dispose, as the expense of these events makes them few in number, but more and more popular with responsibly-minded individuals and families.

6. Remember, if you’re disposing of a refrigerator or an air conditioning unit, you’ll need to have the Freon removed before disposal.  Check in with a local appliance dealer, and be sure to confirm that the technician and his or her equipment is licensed to recapture Freon.  The easiest way to deal with major appliances, even those without a Freon component, is to purchase your new one from a major retailer like Lowes, Sears, or Home Depot that offers to take away the old when they deliver the new.  According to Wilson, companies like these can more easily absorb disposal costs because they work with bulk quantities.  You can rest assured a major appliance source wouldn’t tarnish its name by dumping illegally.

If you are planning to employ a contractor for your project, check the initial estimate for a disposal cost.  If you don’t see one, talk to the contractor, or consider getting another estimate.  The exclusion of disposal costs in the project estimate can be a red flag that your contractor engages in illegal dumping of construction debris, Wilson says.  Be comforted when a dumpster shows up on your property, instead of embarrassed by the eye sore it causes for a short period.

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