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  • Writer's pictureJen Nickel

Keep it out of the dump

6 simple ways to reduce what goes in the dumpster on your construction site and save on your landfill fees

40% of all waste in North America comes from construction

All over the planet, humans are producing more waste than they can find places to put it. Our escalating consumerism is filling our dumps rapidly and using up our finite resources. Our daily habits and lifestyle choices produce much of this waste, but the construction industry is a major contributor, accounting for 40% of all waste in North America. Well-planned, sustainable design looks to minimize waste by reusing as much of an existing space as possible, not demolishing needlessly, and reducing new construction scrap. But there will always be waste produced from a renovation or new build, and cases where a structure will be demolished. With some foresight and planning, we can significantly reduce the waste that goes into the dumpster and landfills.

Some time, effort and some simple strategies can go a long way to reduce our loads to the dump

In 2015, my husband and I embarked on an adventure building a new home for our family, along with my brother and his family. We decided to build semi's together on a lot that had a small existing bungalow. The bungalow had a few recent updates, but was 50 years old with low quality materials, and was on a slab foundation - it made for a good candidate for a simple demolition in an area where it was nearly impossible to get a building lot. We got a couple quotes from demolition companies, but the numbers came in higher than we were expecting for such a small demo. So we decided to do it ourselves! We weren't thinking about sustainability at that time, but more about our budget. And the one thing we had on our side was time, since we were still waiting on our building permits. Over the next few weeks, we demolished the entire house by hand, without heavy machinery, in only 3 dumpsters of waste. Here are a few strategies we used to accomplished this:

1. Sell items online

It's quick and simple these days to place an ad online to sell items in good, useable condition. There are many website options - Kijiji, Craigslist, Ebay, Facebook groups, and plenty of people looking for second-hand items to reuse or upcycle. Some items that may sell quick if in good condition include: light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, windows, doors, or cabinets. In our house demo, we sold a furnace and kitchen cabinets that looked to be under 5 years old. There are always people looking for second-hand cabinets for a cottage or garage. The bonus is that the extra cash helps compensate for your time and effort posting ads.

2. Offer items for free

If you want to get rid of things fast, post an ad offering them for free! You can do this on sites like Kijiji, or Freecycle or on Facebook groups.

You'd be surprised at the things that people will take for free and find a use for.

During our house demo, we listed everything possible on Kijiji for free: doors, windows, laminate flooring, light fixtures, even the kitchen sink! We had people come strip siding from the house to use on a shed, bag up batts of insulation for their own renovation, and take plywood sheets for boards for an ice rink! Though we didn't earn any money by doing this, it save up dumpster fees, and felt good to be able to help people out too.

3. Donate items and have them removed for you

If you have a substantial number of items in good condition, there are organizations that will gladly accept donations, pick them up at your convenience, and even uninstall them for you! Habitat for Humanity will do this and sell the items in their "Restore" to raise money for their organization. I wish I knew about this before we started our demo!

4. Reuse what you can

Reusing items is ideal, since it will save you disposal fees and saves you from having to buy those items new. In our case, due to time and storage constraints, we didn't reuse much. But we did keep a newer toilet for a basement bathroom, and a significant amount of lumber to use on a future shed.

5. Post a FREE sign

Certain items can disappear quick if you leave them out with a free sign! As we dismantled our house, we sorted through the lumber and put some aside for ourselves, and put the rest out on the front lawn with a sign. We had people stop by every day and grab some wood until it was almost gone.

5. Sort and Recycle

There are many materials in house construction that can be recycled, particularly most types of metal. Metal scrapyards will pay for your scrap metal, and though it may not amount to much, it will save you from dumping it. During our house demo, we sorted through all of our metal including the electrical boxes and wire. We had the advantage of having a helpful family member who took it upon himself to strip all of the electrical wire from the house to separate the copper - a metal that will bring a decent return from the scrapyard. (if you don't have that advantage, you can still bring in your electrical wire intact for a lower price)

It definitely takes extra time and work to responsibly plan for the waste at your construction site, but it's worth the effort to minimize our landfills and protect our planet.

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