Diversionary tactics

Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore keeps construction waste out of landfills

If you need a sink, you can find one at the ReStore.

If you need a sink, you can find one at the ReStore.

SN&R Photo By Sena Christian

SN&R buys a building, wants to make it green and pays Sena: Eco Warrior Princess to write a weekly column about it.

We walked through the large warehouse in the former Sacramento Army Depot, admiring rows of plumbing supplies, filing cabinets and new sinks. Dozens of windows, stoves and several water heaters lined one side of the room, and two beautiful wooden doors imported from Mexico, each worth $2,000, leaned against the back wall. There was even a Jacuzzi for sale.

Ken Cross, chief executive officer of Sacramento’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, made a wide-sweeping motion to the warehouse’s interior. “This stuff was all going to the landfill,” he said.

Instead manufacturers, contractors and retailers deposited the new or slightly used construction and building materials to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, where merchandise is sold 30 percent to 50 percent off the retail price and donators earn a tax write-off. Proceeds benefit the nonprofit organization, which builds affordable housing for low-income families.

Usually, contractors haul building-related “waste” to a landfill, paying transportation and disposal costs in the process. Only about 20 percent of building waste is recycled and the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that construction waste and demolition debris constitute 25 percent to 40 percent of the national solid waste stream. According to GreenBuilder.com, about 8,000 pounds of waste generated during the construction of a 2,000-square-foot house gets thrown into landfills.

There are several reasons for these shocking statistics, one being that contractors typically order more than needed so as not to come up short on a job. When it’s time to clean up, additional items go to the yard, get moved around, end up damaged, then tossed into a dumpster bin and sent to landfills. In other cases, someone misorders; one time, the ReStore received two tractor trailer loads full of brand-new cabinets with absolutely nothing wrong with them. The good news: One person’s trash could be another person’s goldmine.

As the building industry becomes more aware of its excruciatingly harmful eco-impact, its members—along with conscientious homeowners, business owners, city municipalities and state agencies—are trying to extend building material lifecycles and keep products in circulation instead of throwing them away. Building projects purporting to be “green” should divert 50 percent to 75 percent of waste (determined by weight) from landfills, according to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design guidelines.

First designate an area for recyclable collection and storage, and identify local handlers who will recycle materials, such as glass, steel and concrete. Then donate reusable or extra items to the ReStore. This may involve added effort on behalf of construction personnel, but it’ll be worth it, if not for the tax write-off, then for the warm, fuzzy feeling that’ll feed your soul.

As SN&R’s crew examined items at the ReStore for possible use in the building we’re renovating on Del Paso Boulevard, our contractor, Mark Wright, walked over to the light fixtures. “I bet I’ve pulled out a thousand of those light fixtures and they just go in the dumpster,” he said. And it’s not that Wright didn’t care. Like so many others he just didn’t know he had a local goldmine right at his fingertips, which begs the question: Is it really a goldmine if no one taps it? Or is it just an unmined field? Before you get mad at me for using a non-eco-friendly analogy (mining equals bad!), consider Cross’ statement: “Probably most general contractors don’t know this place exists.” That’s seriously a crying shame.

Because I’m a mathematical person (and by that I mean I hate math with a passion) let me break this down to a simple equation for all you logical-minded people: Donating construction “waste” is not just about diverting materials from landfills, but also about a tax deduction. And it’s not just about an economic benefit, but it’s about generating more revenue for Habitat for Humanity, which will allow a handful of more houses to be built and several more families to realize an American Dream of homeownership, which often leads to feeling greater connectivity to communities. Take your pick of which good cause you’d like to support.

Well, I guess that wasn’t a mathematical equation in the traditional sense, but it does leave us with only one outcome: Eureka, baby, I think we’ve struck gold.