The Stanford archaeologist William Rathje, who spent decades excavating landfills, has estimated that construction and demolition debris, together with paper, account for "well over half" of what America throws out. He called it one of a few "big-ticket items" in the waste stream actually worthy of the debates we have over merely "symbolic targets" like disposable diapers.Rebuilding a house is usually better than tearing it down, but even remodeling generates a lot of waste:
Remodeling actually ends up generating more than one and a half times the amount of debris every year that demolishing homes does.And in some cases, like the houses in the article, looters have damaged some parts of abandoned houses, and it's a better use of the materials to help someone else fix the house they're still living in.
Interestingly, as people are rediscovering with food, it pays to stay as local as possible:
Moreover, a study Guy wrote with two environmental engineers uncovered an empirical argument for keeping those materials local: on average, shipping them more than 20 miles away for resale can cancel out any energy conserved by reclaiming them.I've tried to reuse and recycle as much as I can from our addition and remodel (the interior doors are from re-use sources, for example), but there's not much you can do with rotted, termite-filled wood that has paint or creosote on it like I got from the old front porch.
Locally, we've got a lot of choices for reusing materials. There's Urban Ore, Ohmega Salvage, and my favorites, the Habitat ReStore and The ReUse People store. I've donated stuff to and bought stuff from both. The ReUse People specialize in deconstruction of buildings as described in the article, and the Habitat ReStore helps support Habitat for Humanity's mission of elimination substandard housing.
And there's always freecycle.org. Besides acquiring or getting rid of random stuff that the above aren't interested in, occasionally various construction and remodeling materials are offered up. I've received a couple of sheets of drywall for the cost of driving a couple of miles to pick them up, and given people bits and pieces they could use. It's a win-win...what's not to like?