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The Green House Effect: Calling the Junk Busters

I wanted to figure out ways I could properly recycle all the scrap metal, carpet, wood, concrete and whatever else got ripped up, so I made it my mission.
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Let's talk about junk. It's two weeks into my home renovation project. I made a decision: if I'm going to renovate the whole house, I might as well do it one fell swoop.

On a freezing cold Tuesday morning at 7:45AM sharp, a crew of sledgehammer wielding guys show up at my house to demo the walls, floors, bathroom fixtures, appliances and anything else I wrote the words "DEMO" in black Sharpie on. Within minutes, it was loud. Really loud. With chainsaws and jackhammers roaring away, I felt in the way and announced that I was heading to Lowe's to look at ceiling fans and light fixtures. Nobody heard me and nobody missed me. When I returned at 3PM, I found a home that had become my blank, dusty canvas.

Earlier in the week, I told my contractor I would not order a standard dumpster for the home renovation project. Instead, I wanted to figure out ways I could properly recycle all the scrap metal, carpet, wood, concrete and whatever else got ripped up. After all, it is my job to figure these things out, so I made it my mission. I would handle the research and grunt work and share the results. What works (and doesn't work) for me is what I would share with other home renovators so they can recycle all their junk, too. But the more I researched online, the more one resource kept popping up at the top of my Google searches: 1-800-GOT-JUNK.

To be honest, I've always thought 1-800-Got-Junk was a sad example how Americans have become an over-consumptive society. Are our homes so full of trash that someone saw the need to create a thriving franchise dedicated to filling up trucks with junk that clog our landfills? But I was wrong.

Not wrong about Americans overbuying, but about the operations of the trash removal company. So, I made a call (you know the number by now) and was connected to my local franchise, owner Eric Blum came out to survey the damage.

Earlier in the week, I asked the demo guys to organize the trash by category: metal, toilets and sinks, scrap wood, concrete cinder blocks, appliances, carpets and miscellaneous contractor bags full of trash. Two shiny blue Got Junk trucks shows up and before I know it, two guys went to work loading them up---one designated for real trash, the other for recyclables---and within 2 hours, had cleared everything out. By my estimate, the recyclables truck was much more full than the trash truck, so guessed 60% could be recycled, while the rest went to the dump.

Here's the breakdown:

SCRAP METAL: If it's made from metal---aluminum, steel, iron---it's recyclable. That's the lesson I learned. So into the back of the truck went all the cast iron bathroom sinks, steel scraps, old aluminum furniture, electric heat baseboard covers, even outdoor chairs and step ladders. Old appliances past their prime--a refrigerator, stove, dishwasher--were also scrap metal. The only thing missing was a good condition dryer, which I theorized someone from the demo crew claimed and took (fine by me!). I estimated there was about 500 pounds of scrap metal salvaged from the site, to which the franchise owner Eric says would bring about 8 cents a pound, or $40.

WOOD: Finished wood floor boards with nails jetting out is not easily recycled and needs to be scrapped. But piles of firewood--which I admitted to never getting around to burning--can be mulched. Into the truck went all the raw wood to be chipped and made into beneficial, water-saving landscaping mulch.

CARPET: 1-800-Got-Junk does take carpet, but hasn't figured out an easy way to recycle it. So, it did take a few calls to the Shaw Flooring's Evergreen network (1-800-434-9887) to arrange for pick-up of the old nylon carpeting. Evergreen is a recycling plant in Augusta, GA that takes post-consumer carpet and makes it back into new nylon carpet. The material, called Anso Nylon, can be infinitely recycled over and over. While the closest drop-off location was 100 miles away in Newark, NJ, I did think it was worth the extra fuel to haul the piles of carpet there for recycling. And to help complete the cycle, I am installing recycled Anso nylon Shaw carpeting in the bedrooms of the house.

CONCRETE AND TIRES: Who knew old concrete was a desirable recyclable material? Old concrete is crushed down into something called concrete aggregate, which is then mixed into asphalt and used in roadways and driveways. The old tires left behind by the previous homeowner are also recyclable, which get shredded and made into a number of recycled rubber products, including landscaping mulch and asphalt.

HOUSEHOLD HAZARDOUS WASTE: What I thought was just an old metal can perfect for scrap metal recycling turned out to be household hazardous waste. The junk busters do not accept household hazardous waste--old paint, gasoline, chemical cleaners, varnishes--but do direct people to drop-off points and collection sites in their community. To my surprise, even with the fast-acting collection in process, they pried open the can to investigate its contents; it was full of old paint and rejected.

And what was truly trash went to the landfill. That included old toilets that used a whopping five gallons of water per flush (not the 1.6 gallons mandated by the US government), old linoleum flooring (to be replaced by eco-friendly engineered wood floors) and stacks of PVC outdoor chairs found underneath the house in a dusty crawl space. "Junk is junk," is what the franchise owner told me, "but we recycle as much of it as we possibly can."