Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On the wood recycling imperative.

Unless it rots or is eaten by insects, wood can be recycled indefinitely for centuries.
Oooh yeah, what a wonderful natural, sustainable, re-newable, low energy (to produce), high value material wood is. However, it is mind boggling and disturbing how much wood goes into land fill every day.

How could anybody drive past this booty? Almost all from the USA.
Living close to the light industrial area of Belmont/Kewdale/Welshpool, I have the opportunity to readily obtain packaging materials - which come from all over the world. In fact, one company, an importer of big commercial washer/driers, even contacts me periodically when they have a pile of packaging material they think I might like. Most of their stuff comes from the USA, Italy or Belgium. Through them I get sheets of OSB board (which is not in common use in Western Australia), pieces of 1/2" plywood, heaps of cheesy soft pine from the USA, other bits of nice fine harder pines from Europe and North America, and the occasional bonus stuff like bits of American White Oak and other unknown(to me) US hardwoods.
Not just a discarded damaged Chinese made table top... it's all wood waiting to be recycled.
In addition, there are several other places that I cruise past periodically, to see what wonders there are to behold in the packaging piles on the verge outside their warehouses. I keep saws, hammers, pincers and pinchbars in my ute all the time to aid my opportunistic urges.
Hoarding discarded from a building site. 13 full sheets of 1/2" ply and over 100m of 90x45mm structural pine.
All that "northern hemispherical" softwood in the crate. It's over 8' long. Lucky me.
Then there are the verge cleanups, or "bring out your dead" events (apologies to Monty Python). A tragic reminder of our ever wasteful consumeristic lifestyles which are killing the planet, people on set periods in the year can dump all their unwanted stuff on the verge and the local council / waste management authority will come around with endless trucks to pick it all up, crush it into smaller volume in the trucks, and cart it of to be dumped in landfill. It is scary how much of this unwanted modern detritus is wood in various forms. For the wood recycling nuts like me, this is a bonanza. Furniture made from valuable and hard to find timbers, just waiting to be pulled apart and recycled. Offcuts from home renovations. Pieces of timber just needing to be loved. The array is amazing.
Timber extracted from a 1950's dressing table left on the verge.
 Mostly what was called "pacific maple" at the time, Dad tells me.
Sadly, there is also a huge amount of furniture made from nasty MDF and particle boards, which I leave behind. This needs special facilities in order to be recycled. Plywood is good for recycling by me. Many a drawer bottom has found new life as the face of a Cajun Drum, or has become wings on scores of aeroplanes made by kids at festivals.  Tragic as they are, verge cleanups offer a wonderful bounty to the wood scroungers the likes of me.

Treasures obtained from a verge cleanup: timber, drawers, an Oregon bed frame, Jarrah table, and more!
This verge cleanup mentality has created a new form of waste disposal/community recycling, for those with a bit of a conscience. Got a TV or, appliance which works but you no longer need? Stick it on the verge, and somebody might take it home. Good furniture is often redistributed in this way. Local councils hate it, but at least it mostly goes to new homes rather than into land fill. I have put good stuff on the verge myself only to find it next Sunday for sale on somebody's stall at the local flea market. Good luck to them, I say! Some good furniture put out there is best a recyclable resource to somebody like me, depending on what it is made of and how much of it is real wood or plywood...

Pulling the crate carefully apart - the claw hammer and pinch bar at work.
Some nails won't come out - but the wood between is perfectly good.
The energy bound up in my waste is used by a family for cooking.
 
Where does this wood recycling mentality come from?
I'm a babyboomer. I can adapt to new technologies and I had a very good education before the educators lost the plot. I am also nostalgic. In contrast to stereotypical qualities of some other generations, I can think critically, problem solve, and am loyal and reliable as an employee. I also had my formative years in an era of massive social change, and remain committed to changing the world to being a greener, fairer, more just and egalitarian society. This has never left me. There is another great thing about being a babyboomer: my parents were shaped by growing up in the Great Depression and the austerity and hardship of "the War Years". Consequently, to this day they remain frugal, almost spartan, non-wasteful, and hate to chuck things out which may be of use someday or to somebody.  I grew up with those values drummed into me, of course, so I am pre-disposed to being a recycler from birth! My father has spent a lifetime as a highly skilled carpenter/joiner/cabinetmaker. The wood stuff rubbed off on me. He even used to pull apart old typewriters to get the nuts, bolts, washers and springs from them - and anything else which might come in handy one day.

80 year old jarrah, rescued from a renovation skip bin and used to make fine furniture.
My adult children invariably call me a bower bird, a tight arse, or an old hippy. My wife rolls her eyes and asks me Where are you going to put it?, when I bring home another treasure trove of timber. No problem. I know I will use it, or I know someone else who could use it. Besides, teaching woodwork and running woodworking activities all over the place, I use up a huge amount of wood, and need to have heaps on hand. Self talk can be a wonderful thing...

I do believe in human induced climate change in addition to the natural cycles of the planet over millions of years. I do endeavour to be part of an urgent movement for change, even it our politicians are reluctant to face the music. Affluence and ignorance can create very effective smoke-screens. I am blessed with a background which makes it very easy for me to embrace a more frugal, socially and environmentally responsible lifestyle. It's almost a natural position for me. I also know I need to do far more.  We all need, myself included, to tread much more lightly on the earth.
Who ever thought this was a smart idea?
A perfectly good 73 year old house, smashed up by an excavator and carted off to landfill to slowly break down generating greenhouse gasses. No opportunity to recycle the jarrah, bricks, roofing, etc. Replaced by an energy hungry McMansion.

Trees help provide some of the answer. We need more trees (the lungs of the world). We need more timber in use everywhere (it is a very effective way of sequestering carbon). We need to be throwing minimal timber into landfill, instead re-using and recycling it or at the very least burning it efficiently for its energy value - and planting yet more trees to take up the resulting CO2 released in combustion.

Trees give us food, shelter, and that marvelous building construction material, wood. Less steel, aluminium and glass, and more wood. It just takes a change in thinking and in priorities. We can help take the lead by recycling/upcycling packaging timbers and discarded furniture into value added products and uses. We can make furniture which lasts and stop buying cheap "disposable" furniture. No wood is disposable, but almost all of it is recyclable. We just need the will to do it.

This is the wood recycling imperative. I challenge you to join me!

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