Recycling Storm Debris

Hurricane Irene has come and gone, but strong winds and heavy rainfall left significant property damage in the wake of the storm. If you’re one of many East Coasters facing a yard full of storm debris, there is plenty you can do to clean up the mess the eco-friendly way.

Many towns and cities are offering curbside collection or open-call recycling days for storm debris (check your municipality’s website to see if this is offered in your area). But if your locality hasn’t made arrangements for recycling, that doesn’t mean all that junk in your yard has to wind up in a landfill. Check out recycling solutions for five common types of storm debris, and you’ll soon be saying “Irene, who?”

#1: Tree Branches and Yard Waste

Downed tree branches are the most common debris problems after a storm. But luckily for you, they’re also the easiest to recycle. If your area offers curbside collection for yard waste, you can usually toss all fallen tree limbs and uprooted plants into the bin. You may need to cut larger limbs down into smaller pieces (check municipality regulations to be sure).

Yard waste is also perfect fuel for your compost pile. But if you don’t have a pile and curbside isn’t an option, you can still find a new home for fallen flora. Give your yard waste to a neighbor with a compost pile or donate it to a local school or community garden. Your trash could be treasure for a garden-grower in your area.

#2: Shingles and Other Roofing Materials

Heavy winds can wreak havoc on your rooftops. And if your yard is littered with shingles and other roofing materials, it can be tempting to toss them all in the trash and call it a day. But most of these materials are easily recyclable, even if they’ve sustained damage.

Before you recycle the shingles in your yard, ask your neighbors if they may have come from their roof. If you can’t find the shingles’ rightful owner or if they are too badly damaged to be reused, recyclers can still find some pretty interesting applications for them. They may even be used for paving roads.

Through the From Roofs to Roads program, the EPA is working with recyclers all over the country to use old roofing shingles to make asphalt for road construction. Check out this list of recyclers that use shingles for this purpose.

Before you take shingles to a recycler, carefully remove all nails, staples or other sharp objects from the surface. A recycler may refuse to accept your roofing materials if these objects are still attached.

#3: Shutters, Aluminum Siding and Other Construction Materials

Shutters, aluminum siding and other external fixtures can easily come loose in harsh weather conditions, which can mean a huge mess on your block. If you’ve swept up a mountain of construction debris, the notion of recycling these materials can seem daunting. But we’re here to help.

Nonprofit organizations can often use even damaged materials for building new homes. Take your load of lightly-damaged construction materials to a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and see what pieces they can use. Reusable materials will help build homes for families in need all over the world. The ReUse People, a nonprofit that aims to reduce waste from building and construction, also collects old construction materials and donates them to low-income families and businesses in Mexico.

If pieces are heavily damaged, you may want to take them to a recycling center instead. Recyclers will usually pay you for aluminum siding, as it can be easily remade into new products. Other bits of scrap materials are also accepted at most recyclers, providing that nails and other sharp objects are removed first.

#4: Patio Furniture

Most of us prepped our porches before Irene hit by removing all loose patio furniture. But if even a few of your neighbors forgot, you could be faced with a backyard full of mangled deck chairs and patio tables.

If furniture is still usable, make an effort to find out which neighbor it belongs to. Try setting up a block meet-up to exchange items that were blown out of their owners’ yards, or contact your local newspaper about putting a lost-and-found ad in the classified section.

If you can’t find an owner for reusable furniture, try donating it to a local Goodwill or Salvation Army for reuse, or put it out on your curb with a “free” sign attached. Sites like FreeCycle and craigslist are also great options for unloading unwanted furniture.

For furniture that is too damaged to reuse, analyze the bits and pieces to find out how to recycle it. Once you’ve figured out what kind of materials you’re dealing with, check out Earth911 to find a recycling center near you.

#5: Fencing, Plywood and Wood Waste

A fallen fence is a huge headache for any property owner. But what about the poor neighbor (you!) that’s stuck with all the bits and pieces in their yard? Fencing and plywood that’s been dashed to smithereens may not look like the most readily-recyclable of materials. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Try donating wood pieces to a local farmer, who can chip them up for use in chicken coops and other animal pens. A school in your area with a horticultural, agricultural or landscaping program can also find a variety of uses for your wood scraps. Instructors can use larger pieces of fencing to teach students how to install posts properly, and pieces that are too small or broken to be reused can be chipped up into mulch for gardens and playgrounds.

A local ceramics studio could also use your scraps to fuel wood-burning kilns. While it may seem like a good idea, avoid using fencing and plywood in your fireplace. Some pieces may contain paints and laminates that emit toxic fumes if burned. Most kilns in professional studios are equipped with exhaust fans that keep these fumes out of the workroom.

From; Mary Mazzoni.