After a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of being able to see the floor in the garage for the first time in a decade, Maggie agreed to idea of building a shed to house our bikes and gardening tools. After consulting the feng shui garden designer, we established a site and the shed began.

But this is was not to be an ordinary shed. It was to be created almost entirely of garbage.

It all started with three of my neighbors deciding that it was time to add-on to their houses. In the space of three weeks, three dumpsters were parked in three driveways, and deconstruction began.

Dumpsters were an anathema to my father. He could not, for the life of him, understand why people were throwing away perfectly good items. Items he gladly scrounged and brought home with all the excitement of a boy rescuing a puppy from the pound. “Look at this”, he’d say, a knowing smile on his face. It was always something in relatively good shape; sometimes just needing a coat of paint or a few extra screws, but nothing that we ever exactly needed. At least not at that exact moment. 

Or ever, as my mother was quick and repeatedly to point out. There were, at any given time, things as varied as a 15’ catamaran sailing boat (my Dad did not sail), a double pedestal oak desk (already had two), perfectly good lumber (for what?), and various lamps (just needs a new plug and a shade), pieces of plate glass, (I don’t know, maybe coasters?).

It’s easy to establish the origins of my father’s packrat nature. My father lived on a farm in Saskatchewan during the Dirty Thirties. In those days, things were not thrown out, they were simply set aside until another use for them could be found. People had so few things, and the sense of community was so strong, that things were repurposed, repaired or shared, rather than dumped. Add that history to a tartan genetic code, and the results are predictable.

So, I guess it’s not surprising that the shed sprang up the way it did.

Across the street, the sounds of prybars and chainsaws began, and so did I. With the approval of my neighbor, and her builder and the demolition crew, I began to scrounge. The roof came off to expose 16 thirteen foot 2x6s. They became studs for the walls.  The 2x10 fascia boards were discarded and became the floor joists. Triangle shaped plywood cutoffs from the new roof were born again in a crazy geometry lesson of a floor. A leftover 4 foot section of clear 4x4 yellow cedar was cut and hand split to become a design detail under the gable.

As my two sons and a conscripted neighbor boy worked away, I would enumerate the savings. “Look at this! This piece of 2x6 would cost $8 in the store”, I’d say, grinning away, and the 14 year olds would roll their eyes as loudly as they could.

The two best scrounges of the project came at the end of the construction. I had sided the front of the shed with some reclaimed cedar siding from a fence I had torn down to put up the shed, and I was short cedar for the long side. Resigned to having to go to the cedar mills on River Road, I loaded up the trailer with the few non-usable odds and ends from the job, and headed for the dump, intending to pick up the cedar in the same load.

Imagine my surprise as I was dumping my odd and ends into the bin at the dump when a fellow pulls up with his trailer and is dumping perfect 1x10 pieces of cedar siding from a garage he was tearing down. After some intricate negotiations with the crew at the dump, I filled up my trailer from his, and headed home, loaded down with more cedar than I needed for the job, saving about $200 and part of a tree, and diverting a little waste from the landfill.

A small bit of waste to be sure. Each year the GVRD accepts 1.2 million tons of garbage, but 64% is construction waste. An additional 400,000 tons of demolition and construction waste is sent to private landfills. The only bright in this dark picture is the 70 % that is actually recycled. In fact, the GVRD is one of the leaders in construction waste recycling, with streams for concrete, asphalt, wood, and green waste. Good for us, bad for the rest of North America.

The finishing touch for the job was the shelving for the inside, and for those I turned to Delta Freecycle. I posted a request for storage units and within a day, two offers for shelving appeared in my mailbox. 

Freecycling is a movement that began in May 2003 to promote waste reduction in Tucson's downtown and help save desert landscape from being taken over by landfills. In two short years the concept has blossomed with 3,203 groups around the world and 1,793,318 members. 

The end of this story. My four year old and I were biking this week along Central Avenue, where they are tearing down a couple of old houses to make way for four new ones. As we sat and watched the demolitions machines obliterate the old houses, we could catch glimpses of perfectly salvageable lumber before it splintered in the maw of the machine. My son thought a minute, and then said. “You know Dad, there’s some good 2x4s there.” The torch has been passed.

It's Not Garbage, It's Art!