Construction debris is a big deal. Here’s how to make it a littler deal.

old used wheelbarrow details with construction waste, broken tiles pieces

My wife and I have a brand-new cabin!

And … a pile of scrap wood there … a few big boxes of drywall scraps … some unused heating ducts … a couch we stored in the garage that turned into a mouse condo … and more debris, so much more.

Construction and demolition are a big source of landfill waste in this country. Between 25 and 40 percent of solid waste in the United States comes from construction, and only about 20 percent is recycled. Doing a better job with construction and debris waste can make a big dent in reducing our need for landfills.

Here’s what I learned: Even when you have a responsible contractor, even you do your own job as well as possible, you can end up making a lot of landfill trips.

Pam and I took our first of many trips to the Bayfield County solid waste station a few weeks ago. After sorting through those dusty scraps in the basement and sorting through snow-covered wood scraps outside, I wondered if there’s a better way.

I looked into a few resources that all of us could use to reduce construction waste. Here are a few ideas and some links to resources.

My favorite tip is a “Free Tree.” It’s simple. If you’re remodeling, just take any usable building materials to a tree or similar location and put up a sign saying “Free.” Those materials often will disappear overnight. (Just be sure neighbors are cool with the location).

For me, the biggest problem is poor planning. I’m just not the type to sit down and plan a project well enough to avoid buying a lot of unnecessary supplies. My second tip is: DON’T BE ME. Take your time going into the project and figure out exactly what materials you’ll need.

Once you figure out what you need, here are three places that can help you before and after the project:

Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore in Superior has all sorts of new and reclaimed building materials and supplies for a nominal cost. Revenue helps Habitat build homes for people in need.

WLSSD’s Reuse Center at the Materials Recovery Center on Rice Lake Road can have items like furniture, housewares and building materials. All for FREE!

And WLSSD’s Product Reuse Center at WLSSD’s Courtland Street location has oodles of cans of products such as unwanted paints, household cleaners and the like. Again…FREE!

WLSSD has great information on its reuse programs.

With a reasonable amount of planning, a little time invested in looking through used items, and the willingness to donate usable items to reuse centers, you can cut back on a lot of the waste generated in construction.

We’re planning to use these resources as we move into the cabin. I already bought an office chair at Habitat’s ReStore so I can sit at my computer, look at the bird feeder on the birch tree outside, and pretend to write the great American novel. Our walkout basement is an unfinished, blank palate that we want to develop into living space. We’re already browsing the ReStore, the WLSSD’s Reuse Centers for ideas.

Still, there are times when you have to throw something away, like our couch that became a mouse condo this summer. Stuff like that, frankly, is why landfills were made. After 30 years of use in three states, and after moving the couch four times, we threw that couch away guilt-free.

by Craig Lincoln, environmental program coordinator at WLSSD