The Right Way to Dispose of Construction Trash

  • Baustelle mit Bauschutt und Fensterrahmen
  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Well, they say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But try telling that to someone who has hundreds of pounds of junk on hand after a home renovation project.

    TOM: Well, before you can add the new, you’ve got to get rid of the old. And that can often be a costly part of any home improvement project. Here with tips to help lighten the load is Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House.

    Hey, Kevin.

    KEVIN: Hey, guys. Great to be back.

    TOM: So, getting rid of that debris can be pretty expensive. How can we spend less money getting rid of our old stuff?

    KEVIN: So, if you deal with Tom Silva, our general contractor, he will tell you that the debris he removes from a job site can cost him up to $10,000 a job. Now, we’re doing big renovations?

    LESLIE: Right.

    KEVIN: But that’s a lot of garbage and that’s a lot of money.

    TOM: Absolutely.

    KEVIN: So there are definitely ways that you can reduce the cost and also reduce the strain on the landfill. A couple of things to start with – carpet is one thing that we tear up a lot of. People like hardwood floors, so out goes the old carpet. Well, if it’s in relatively decent shape – no stains, no worn patches – you can donate it.

    They are a couple of national organizations. Habitat for Humanity, being one of the best, has a nonprofit home improvement store. They call them ReStores. And you donate your old home improvement goods. It’s an actual store where people go in and they can pull this stuff off the shelves and buy it. And it is supporting the charitable organization. So it’s a great place to think about first when you’re pulling materials out of your house.

    LESLIE: You can even put extra materials there. I mean they’re really great and it does a really good service for the community.

    Along that line, appliances, they may work for you and really not be in bad condition, just be outdated. What can you do with your old appliances?

    KEVIN: Appliances are so efficient these days. It’s rare that you get rid of an appliance because it’s not working.

    LESLIE: Right.

    KEVIN: You’re usually updating it for the look. And because you’re doing that, that means that you’re getting rid of something that works. And there are a lot of people out there who would love to have it. You can actually sell it to an old appliance dealer. I’ve got one in my town that comes by and picks these things up. Sometimes, the antique dealers will actually do it. If it’s a really bad situation and it’s not working, well, the thing weighs a ton and it’s got a lot of material in it. So a salvage guy might actually take it away for you, as well. And they could pay – I don’t know – maybe 10 cents a pound for an appliance and then pick these things apart.

    Another thing that I point out – and this is something that my wife and I used when we recently renovated our kitchen – are local websites where you can actually donate your goods to other people in your town. And a lot of towns actually have these little networks set up via the web. So, you’re not only getting rid of your stuff but you know it’s going to your neighbor and you don’t have to deal with the transport.

    TOM: That’s fantastic. So, basically, you post on the site what you have available for donation and people come and get it.

    KEVIN: They do.

    TOM: Yeah, that’s great. You know, a lot of times when I’m trying to purge old tools or old materials, of course, being the business that we’re in, I’m often faced with – I think I had 8 or 10 windows at my house at one time, each one different than the next because we used them for TV projects. I’ve actually put them on my front lawn with a sign that says, “Free to a good home.” And I’d rather people pick them up.

    KEVIN: What’s the address? I’m swinging by.

    TOM: Speaking of things that don’t cost a lot but can have a lot of value, let’s talk about all the wood that you pull out of buildings. Up-cycling is a hot topic these days. And purchasing products that are made with recycled lumber is very, very popular. Can we get that wood to a place where it could be created into something new?

    KEVIN: Absolutely. Again, I bring up the ReStore run by Habitat for Humanity. If you’ve got tongue-and-groove flooring that isn’t working for you, where you’ve got to move it around in the house, there are a lot of people who would love to get their hands on it. It is often hardwoods in really good shape and as you mentioned, Tom, sort of hard to get.

    TOM: Right.

    KEVIN: So you can take it out carefully and places like ReStore can resell it so that it can be used, again, for flooring. There are wood-waste dealers who might be able to take it from you and use it and turn it into scraps. And if you are going to have to throw it out, well, there’s a couple of things that you want to think about.

    First of all, in our state of Massachusetts, for example, if you have a construction and demolition dumpster, that, by definition, is going to a recycling facility. And they’re going to start separating those materials. So the wood’s going to be removed, the plastic is going to be put in a different pile, the gypsum in a third pile. And so you want to source the waste through systems like that.

    And then, finally, if it’s got a lot of lead paint on it, just be careful about its disposal because there are lots of rules and regulations on how you get rid of anything with lead on it.

    TOM: Now, what about the wallboard, gypsum and other types of construction debris? Can any of that be recycled?

    KEVIN: Absolutely. We have – do this all the time. Tommy has stopped doing demolition of houses and he’s doing what he calls “deconstruction.”

    TOM: Yeah. Like disassembly.

    KEVIN: Disassembly.

    TOM: Yeah.

    KEVIN: Basically taking it out, putting it into piles and then people come by. We’ve dealt with guys who take old asphalt roof shingles and they grind them up and they actually turn it into asphalt paving.

    LESLIE: Oh, interesting.

    KEVIN: We’ve had guys take concrete and brick and they chop that stuff up and they turn it into road base. The gypsum actually gets crushed up and reused, as well. It’s remarkable how efficient we have become by recycling all of these materials. And so, as you take it out of the house, know that you are – can put it into a stream where this material will be reused oftentimes in ways that you never would’ve thought of. Could you imagine your roof shingles being underneath the wheels of your car as you drive down the highway? Well, it happens.

    TOM: Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for sharing how the materials we use to build our homes can have a new life once they’re replaced.

    KEVIN: My pleasure. Great to be here, guys.

    LESLIE: And you can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit

    TOM: And Ask This Old House is brought to you on PBS by Gorilla Glue. For the toughest jobs on Planet Earth.

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