Hey Mr. Green,
I volunteer at our local SPCA thrift shop and have gotten everyone into recycling (at least at the shop). But I'm not sure what is best to do with the wood products that are not suitable for resale, and so are put in the dumpster. I live on several acres and could bring them home to burn. So the question is which is worse: fill a landfill or fill the sky with smoke? --Vicki, in Brazoria, Texas
It’s probably best to send the wood products to a landfill instead of burning them. Because they are often slathered with paint, varnish, and glue, burning might release toxic chemicals into the air. Those chemicals could also damage the pollution controls in your wood stove. Since you’re obviously a conscientious environmentalist, I do assume you have an EPA-approved stove or firebox. But if you have an older, highly polluting stove or fireplace, don't burn anything in it--just replace it. For more information on how and why to get safer woodburners, see my blog, “A Very, Very Hot Topic, or ‘I Miss My Lung, Bob’ ” at http://sierraclub.typepad.com/mrgreen/2008/01/hey-mr-greenin.html
Some would argue that it’s best not to burn wood at all, because even efficient stoves still pollute much more than, say, natural gas and propane, while releasing more carbon dioxide into the air per unit of heat. But I’m less concerned about this than about the pollution from the 19 million barrels of oil we burn every day while fighting wars to keep it flowing our way, not to mention 2.6 million tons of coal per diem. When in God’s name is this country going to wake up and get a rational energy policy?
But there may be other, higher, nobler possibilities for your old wood than dumping or burning. You might try to rustle up woodcrafters, artists, or sculptors who can use those ostensibly unsalable wood items. These wizards do remarkable things with “found objects,” stuff we less creative types dismiss as utterly useless. For example, check out some of the artwork by my old friend Tony May, emeritus professor at San José State University at http://artshiftsanjose.com/?p=619 or http://tonymay.net/ Dumpster diving, curbside retrieval, and cruising thrift stores is an integral aspect of the guy’s work because it provides him with a treasure trove of raw material. (I’ve known him since the bygone days when he could leap into the tallest dumpster at a single bound.)
There’s a serious eco-message embodied in such artistic efforts: Reusing objects encourages an ethic of cherishing and conservation instead of adding to the effluvia of the modern economy, while it can also express a melancholy view of the sheer waste of said economy. A master of this sort of brilliant redeployment of cast-off material as art is Michael McMillen. You can learn more about him at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-seed/michael-c-mcmillen-artist_b_743942.html. As Sierra Club founder John Muir said, "all things are hitched," and for me that includes art and the enviroment.