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You can keep lumber out of landfills, Eagle County

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Rebecca Moidel/Vail DailyTom McKay and Cristian Istodor, unload the Habitat Home Outlet truck into the warehouse. McKay said Habitat picks up donated supplies usually three to seven times a day.
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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” McDonald’s wrappers are one thing you expect to find in a landfill ” but piles of unused lumber and tons of brand new bricks?

Leftover and unneeded construction materials makes up about 50 percent of the landfill in Eagle County, says Seth Kulas, the manager at RECON, a construction salvage yard near the Wolcott landfill. And out of the tons of lumber, glass, masonry and even furniture that ends up in the garbage, only about 20 percent is really trash. The rest can be reused or recycled, he said.

That wasteful culture has been changing in Eagle County though over the past few years, and more contractors than ever are making big efforts to recycle. Groups like RECON and Habitat Home Outlet are making it easier, and preferable, for many builders to donate their waste so it can be reused.

Walking around the big warehouse at the Habitat Home Outlet in Gypsum, you see all the waste that could have been.

The store is filled with the unwanted leftovers from the valley’s building community ” the old loveseats from remodeled hotel lobbies, leftover doorknobs, beautiful doors and box after box of tiles and shingles construction companies didn’t need.

Overall, the outlet kept about 276 tons of material out of the landfill last year, said director Kristi Moon. Meanwhile, all that stuff, much of it brand new or slightly used, is sold at heavily discounted prices, and proceeds go to Habitat for Humanity housing projects.

On the way to the county landfill, you’ll see RECON, operated by the non-profit Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability. It’s not a warehouse like the Outlet, just a big open space that can hold a lot of discounted lumber and masonry.

“Out goal is to divert as much trash as possible from the landfill,” Kulas said.

The collections at RECON and the Outlet either begin with the construction of new projects, when contractors have extra lumber or the wrong windows, or when they’re demolishing an old building or room and need to get rid of things like used, but perfectly fine, cabinets, sinks and furniture.

“A lot of times, cabinetry will be ordered, and an owner will say, no, it doesn’t look like I expected, so they don’t want it,” said Diana Scherr, marketing director at RA Nelson, a building contractor in the valley who regularly donates to RECON and Habitat Home Outlet.

The hardest part of donating is often the timing.

It actually takes more time and expertise to carefully pull apart a building and salvage materials than to demolish the structure.

“You can’t just smash the stuff out ” you have to unbuild it,” said Kurt Buss, regional manager for the Reuse People, a nonprofit group based in Boulder that does deconstruction projects.

The extra time needed can be just enough to throw off a tight construction schedule. Scherr said RA Nelson is able to deconstruct most of their remodeling projects, but sometimes they don’t have the time, and that’s a problem most contractors are having to deal with.

To help out, both RECON and the home outlet gladly pick up loads from job-sites in big trucks, which saves the builders time and money. As more contractors see how easy that is, more are starting to donate every year, Moon said.

“Just finding the time to run stuff to Gypsum is tough for any construction time table,” Scherr said. “The easier you can make it to reuse and recycle, the more it will be done.”

Other communities in Colorado don’t have organizations like the Habitat Home Outlet and RECON to handle all that material, which forces builders to either find storage space, ship it a long distance or throw it away, Buss said.

In Eagle County though, where pick-ups are free and the drop-offs are close, the decision should be easier, Buss said.

“If you can salvage the lumber out of houses, you don’t need to cut down trees, so you’re conserving natural resources,” Buss said.

And the last bonus? Donations to RECON or the Habitat Home Outlet are tax deductible.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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