Nearly every construction project generates trash. It might be cut off ends of 2x4s or scrap pieces of drywall or wood, plastic, and cardboard window packaging. Prefab housing is a nearly scrap-free process, but we aren’t prefabbing.

Before we moved here to Panama, we completely remodeled a 1920s Craftsman style house in Colorado. Down to the studs and more. In that project, we generated 120 cubic yards of debris (60, 2-yard dumpsters), mostly old plaster, plus an amazing amount of stuff that we put out next to a big tree. The whole town knew of the Free Tree, and some people made regular passes by the house to score the latest junk. My favorite piece placed at the Free Tree was an avocado green, 1960s style electric fireplace that hung on the wall. Very retro, and I bet it is still in service today. But when we were done, we had created an artful, very energy efficient dwelling that can be enjoyed for another 100 years. Our monthly fuel bills to heat the house went from $400 before remodel with the thermostat set at 55 (brrrrrrr), to less than $100 post remodel with the thermostat set at 68, and there had been significant energy price increases along the way. I think the significant contribution to the landfill was worth the future savings in energy costs.

At this point in construction of our shipping container house, we have four shipping containers making up the infrastructure/bones for walls, floors, and roofs, the equivalent of 1,280 square feet of living space. I have been keeping track of our current trash. So far, the sum total of our trash from this project is:

  • a couple hundred paper bags from the sacks of cement, most of which we reused to protect the fresh concrete from impending rain
  • a couple hundred welding rod 1-inch ends
  • a couple dozen angle grinder cutoff wheel stubs
  • a 5-gallon bucket full of metal cutoff scrap; I told Armando to stop the recycled metal guy that comes by in his pickup truck a couple days a week, announcing his presence over the bull horn. I told Armando he could keep the money: he got $3 for his bus fare for the week. Often, a truck will come up the mountain selling fish, and go down the mountain collecting recyclables
  • and five, one-gallon empty paint cans

Not bad so far I think.

I’m not claiming that we are building the world’s greenest house. I’m not going to go there. However, we did up-cycle four containers that were at the end of their useful lives. Part of me wishes that we had bought new containers, just for the visual harmony, but what’s green or interesting about that? Our old, beat containers are beautiful. They show a history of transport many times around the world. To me, the containers are like my friends. Old faces, wrinkles and warts and all, marks that show character and a life lead. I can make up my own stories about how each set of dents happened (in the containers, not my friends, although that could be fun, too).

Here’s a photo of our trash pile:

Like a line from the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas; Five empty paint cans... (I hope that you don't sing that in your head for for the next week...)

That’s all for now.

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