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Renovation rubbish & the perils of buying second hand

In stark contrast to our supermarket bag of rubbish from 2008, this week we filled a massive 60 litre council bag and sent it off to landfill! The culprit? Renovations!

A couple of weeks ago we moved from our ‘apartment in the sky’, to the suburbs on the North Shore of Auckland. The term ‘slum lord’ is a great description of the previous owner, who had the place filled to the brim with tenants with very little love, or concern, shown to aesthetics and cleanliness! Knowing how important environment is on feelings of wellbeing, the last two weeks has seen us stripping wallpaper, plastering, sanding, painting, painting and more painting in an effort to make it feel comfortable to live in. Thanks to the help of family we now have a lovely place to call home and are looking forward to planting a garden next.

I set up a system in the garage for sorting out the waste as we set about cleaning the place up; boxes for scrap metal, plastic recycling, organic waste, and rehoming (via Freecycle), were dutifully set out, but it was the pile for landfill waste that grew the largest and fastest. The wallpaper was able to be put out with the paper recycling, and the carpet from a bedroom found a new home in another person’s games room through Freecycle, and Trademe is about to see a few more listings but there were other things that we just couldn’t avoid sending to landfill – such as the 100% nylon carpet from around the toilet…

At first we felt really guilty about the ‘Rubbish Free Couple’ throwing out so much rubbish! But guilt isn’t a good place to work from, so we re-framed it all and realised we are just dealing with the consequences of other people’s decisions thirty years ago when the place was decorated. Their choices in what materials to use then define what options we have available now that it is time to retire those materials in their current form.

As a result, we have been very conscious of what we are bringing into our home now, so that whoever is redecorating in thirty years hopefully has an easier time avoiding sending stuff to landfill. Our main approach is using second hand items wherever possible. Given that the most impact an item has during it’s life is generally in it’s construction, once energy has been imbeded in an item it is best to use, or reuse it, for as long as possible. We heard Resene paint has the lowest VOCs so have been buying it from Trademe off folk who had it leftover from their decorations. We got some great carpet and had a local guy lay it, and are currently on a search through the home demolition yards for a bathroom mirror / cabinet.

It hasn’t been without it’s testing moments however. This week we purchased a second hand vanity unit from a demo yard for $25 more then the identical unit was on special in the store! The plumber was all for the new one, which would have been easier for him to work with as opposed to having to use existing holes, and we had our moments where the shiny new one looked appealing, but in the end second hand won out! Because we wanted to spend as little as possible, we were essentially limited to MDF construction. And because we aren’t big fans of MDF we were very reluctant to be responsible for more of it entering the world in the form of cheap joinery. However, because there was an MDF unit already existing that no one wanted, it seems wise to re-use it for as long as possible and thus our purchase of the second hand unit.

Reading the above, you’d be forgiven for thinking that life must be very draining in our household as we agonise over every little thing! I can assure you that’s not the case. Once in the habit it is almost unconscious weighing up asthetic, price, and environmental impact when purchasing an item. Thirty years ago the decorators of our house weren’t expected to consider the third factor when choosing an item, but given what we know today it seems completely irresponsible to continue to do so.

$350 new - $375 second hand!

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