Posts Tagged ‘recycling’

Still amazed by how much (and what) people throw away. Our most recent score was a couple of very large towers, some perfectly good garden trellis, a couple of rolls of tin, some cinder blocks, and some pallets from the dump. Driving past someone’s house we noticed some logs and Shane asked if they were throwing them away- sure enough. All of the wood in the picture has been salvaged from one place or another, including the wood roof which Shane is going to cover with our found tin.

pallets etctowerswood

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We live on the prairie so wood is hard to come by. Not so for pallets though- it seems there are always a surplus of pallets being thrown away. We collect them wherever we go. We even have a friendly store owner who saves them out back for us.

Of the many uses we’ve found for our pallets: perfect firewood for the rocket mass heater, a temporary front landing for our new home (perfect for scraping off muddy boots), compost bins, bins for sand, and sturdy platforms for our lime and cement bags (to protect them from moisture). We’re also planning on using a few in the construction of a new dog house and recently came across a great idea for “pallet gardening” on Grow Food, Not Lawns facebook page.
Gotta love it when free stuff turns out to be so darn useful!

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Just a quick update… We haven’t commenced building yet as winter drags on until the bitter end. We’re still hitting lows of -10 at night and have been hit pretty hard by blizzards a few times in recent weeks. Still, the weather has been nice enough (relatively speaking) to get some things started outside.

With four cats it was difficult to keep the gardens free of cat shit last year- and we’ve since added a dog- so fencing seemed appropriate. We fenced off one large area to which I added a good bit of garden space and started fencing another with preexisting gardens. Hopefully those will help. I’ve started a bunch of seeds in anticipation that are coming up nicely.

We also decided to add a pond, to take advantage of a naturally low spot on the property and divert some of the run off. It’s working out nicely so far. The last heavy snow fall we had melted to fill the pond nicely rather than leaving behind a more general flood plain as it has in past.

Say what you will about scavenging- we picked up a nifty couch and chair set with matching foot stool that I’m pretty happy about. A little cleaning up and voila– good as new. The especially nice thing is the narrowness of the couch. I think I mentioned that we accidentally built some of our doorways on the narrow side and I was beginning to think we wouldn’t get anything through there, when lo and behold we came across the perfect size furniture at the dump. We also grabbed a decent heavy wood coffee table that I may refinish to match things and loads of rain gutters for future projects.

Speaking of rain- we picked up four 55 gallon rain barrels on the cheap in Calgary. Much better deal buying used soap drums (fully cleaned and outfitted with taps) than had we bought “rain barrels” sold as such at the hardware store. I’m quite looking forward to installing them out front.

We also finalized our building plans after much discussion and consideration. A bit of a departure from our last plans but we’ll stick with one large, bi-level room at the back of the house to keep things as tight as possible. That’s a little more in keeping with our original plan to distribute heat as evenly as possible and keep electric and water distribution to a very simple plan. A small wood storage alcove off the living room will finish things off nicely.

That’s about it for now- busy, busy. Can’t wait to start building but in the meantime we’ve got plenty o’ work to keep us going.

living rm set

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I never would have figured myself for a garbage picker but it’s become quite the habit. So much so that I look forward to our visits to the transfer site, and I know the pick up schedule so I can time my trips. We hardly generate any real waste to dispose of so we almost always leave with more than we drop off.

What we’ve really lucked out on is wood- lots and lots of wood- which amazes me on the prairie but works for me. We’ve got quite the stockpile going already and still haven’t finished retrieving the last pile of fence posts. Other recent finds include a working Bosch saw of some kind, a butcher’s table that just needs a little cleaning up, a little sled (that I needed for hauling compost!), a funny little fridge that I like the look of but am not sure what I’ll do with yet, a nice new firewood holder (still had the sticker on it), and some stainless steel pots.

I don’t always have a plan for the things that we collect. Sometimes I just like the look of something and I put it aside in case I figure out a use for it. Other things, like motors, we’ll no doubt use for any of the multitude of projects we have on the go. Still other things are simply oddities that I wouldn’t come across in a regular store, like the brown jug I plan on polishing up to use as a vase. And I’ll have to clean up and repaint some things, like the outdoor fireplace.

If you have enough time and patience, a lot of building materials can be had for free from scavenging. We’ve collected windows, screens, doors, good 2 x 4s, plywood, glass bricks, insulation… I’ve also been collecting a good amount of paper and cardboard for sheet mulching, papercrete, and some projects I would like to eventually get to when the building is complete.

It may have been outside of my comfort zone just a few years back but I’m not afraid to admit it today- I’m a scrounger. A dedicated one at that. 🙂



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I haven’t had much of what a person would consider down-time in recent weeks. We’re up at 5 and work pretty steady until nightfall and I’m lucky to make it to 10 p.m. without crashing. We’ve had a lot of rain the last several days (snow on Saturday believe it or not) and one day it rained hard enough that I got a few minutes in between baking bread to search the web for interesting articles and projects.

I am all about repurposing objects in useful or interesting ways. I’m drawn to higher quality end products though. I’m not big on the whole ‘look at this milk crate as a chair’ sort of deal. Not to knock people who are happy with that, it’s just not my style. There are so many really creative processes that can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, why settle for mundane?

I was delighted then, to come across these wonderful products of repurposing. There is a whole page of interesting items created from cardboard on Inspiration Green. Some are practical, some are decorative, but I think you’d have to agree they are truly incredible in their approach to reusing cardboard. My personal favourites are the works of Domingo Tortora and of Sanserif Creatius (particularly the Moroccan style table). The cardboard office by designers Joost van Bleiswijk and Alrik Koudenburg is incredible too.

I also came across the work of Gülnur Özdağlar and her two daughters, producing under the name of name of tertium non data (Latin for “the third is not given”). They recycle plastic bottles into incredible works of art. My favourites among their extensive collection is the aquatics line. There is a tutorial online for those interested in producing their own artwork at instructables.com, though I expect it takes a long while to reach the level of skill to produce works of art such as those from tertium non data.

How perfectly wonderful. I have already asked Shane to start collecting cardboard for me. I’ll stockpile it in the shop and when winter rolls around and I have some time, I’ll have to try my hand at cardboard furniture. Maybe tiles too, for a backsplash in the kitchen though I’m still leaning towards hand painting my own clay tiles. And if there’s time still after that, I might just see what I can do with some of the plastic bottles in our collection.

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Scavenging has become an important part of our building process. One of our (many) goals is to keep construction to under $5,000- no small feat. Sure, we’re definitely saving by using the earth beneath our feet as our primary construction material, but there are other materials needed along the way. Most of which we’ve been able to scavenge from transfer sites, garbage bins outside of construction sites and businesses, and donations from people throwing out perfectly usable ‘things’.

We collect, well, pretty much everything. Which is not to say we’ve allowed the place to become a dumping ground, but we’re much more open to what things “could be” rather than the old mindset of deciding what’s needed in kind of a ‘grocery list’ manner and seeking them out. Spend some time with a few seemingly useless items and you’ll see what I mean. A little time and imagination can bring forth all sorts of ideas for items that appear, on the surface, useless.

Some things we have sought out though. We needed barbed wire for our earthbag construction- lots of it. So far we haven’t had to buy any. Farmers unceremoniously dump their old barbed wire into ditches when they replace their fencing, and we’ve been using what we’ve found. We need bags and easily enough obtained a very large quantity from local breweries who were happy to support our project and donate their used grain bags. We needed wood for window and door frames and have collected a tremendous amount of that from transfer sites, considerably more than could be used for framing and has gone into other projects as well as a large stockpile that we keep in the shop. Nails and screws left behind in multiple coffee cans around the property have been put to good use, pallets have been transformed into compost bins, and used 5 gallon pails hold our soil mixes.

We’ve picked up junction boxes, cast iron pipe, an antique heavy iron stove top, water heaters, rigid foam board, duct work, grader blades, 55 gallon drums (good for rocket stoves & water harvesting), an old parts washer that we’ll modify for our CaTo stove, a small shingled roof we’ll use for something down the road, fence posts galore, and had a couple dozen full size telephone poles dropped off by workers replacing a line nearby. Just last night we picked up a shovel and a rake, as well as a whole bunch of garden stakes, while dropping off our garbage.

I’d have never pegged myself for a ‘scavenger’. There was a time, not too long ago, I’d have been horrified if Shane had suggested that we go to the dump to see what we could find. But it’s amazing, what you can find just lying around or disposed of that can still be put to practical use. And I feel good about it. We’re not only saving money, we’ve managed to reduce our own waste (un-freakin’-believably) and we’re able to put other people’s waste to good use as well. Go figure. And all we had to do was open our minds to the possibilities.

Telephone poles, fence posts & a shingled roof- a few of our finds

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