There's no shame in smart, prudent recycling

THE RIGHT STUFF: Kent Gibbons of Waimea Sawmillers with some  untreated douglas fir  great for house framing and recycling.
THE RIGHT STUFF: Kent Gibbons of Waimea Sawmillers with some untreated douglas fir great for house framing and recycling.

What is so difficult about recycling building materials?

It's almost as though the mighty skip absolves the builder of any conscience, as it mysteriously disappears with its contents in the wee small hours, a fresh empty skip reappearing and waiting to be filled.

It's not only those in the industry who are slow to embrace recycling. Our comfortable affluence could be our worst enemy. It seems people in general feel terribly embarrassed by the idea that they may be seen taking things from a roadside waste bin. Get over it, I say.

One of my best skip finds was some recently pulled-up woollen carpet from the ANZ bank.

It was a busy Saturday in town and I spotted a man loading it into his van. He was fine with me taking some, but said I would have to collect it from the skip it was destined for on Washington Rd.

I called in the next Monday and made sure it was all right with the man in the warehouse, then headed over to check out the skip. What a nice score indeed. This was not only woollen carpet but it was pre-cut in strips about 600 millimetres wide, all nicely rolled up, perfect for what I had in mind.

I hauled myself up the side of the skip and clambered inside to pick up armloads of carpet.

This carpet was the perfect mulch to keep weeds and gorse down around my 50 or so fruit trees. The carpeted hillside did look a bit odd, but there you go – one mustn't be too self-conscious when recycling.

The thing is, recycling is not that hard to do. You feel better for it knowing that some happy people are burning your off-cuts of untreated wood, or lining their chicken house with pieces of your gib-board. Plus there is less rubbish going into landfill.

I am always pleased to see companies actively offering their waste products to the public, like Orange Joinery on Nayland Rd, which regularly puts untreated wood out.

There were many materials used in my house that are recyclable simply because we put some thought into selecting suitable materials.

Graeme Whimp, my architectural designer at DesignBase, was very patient with my questioning about the merits of every potential material. He was also very open to any alternative solutions suggested, and I know this has impacted on his consciousness as a designer.

Waimea Sawmillers supplied my untreated douglas fir framing timber, and it is thanks to their efforts that this timber is now recognised as an "acceptable" framing material. Many timber mills in Nelson have been proactive in supporting locally grown and untreated timbers. Gibsons Timber and Plankville both supplied me with timber that could be recycled as off-cuts and put to another use rather than end up as more landfill.

On my building site, I got into the habit of scouting around every few days, sorting things into different piles.

We had quite a lot of wood off-cuts from flooring, decking, architraving and framing, all of which were untreated. The builders took some home, and I kept some for burning in my outdoor brazier. The short lengths were put to use as shelving in my studio and the cool room.

When we unpacked the cooker, fridge-freezer and other large appliances, the huge sheets of cardboard were ideal for laying over grass when starting my no-dig vegetable garden.

This technique saves your back, while avoiding disturbing the organisms beavering away in the soil underneath.

I used wood shavings from untreated timber in the mulch and for layering between food scraps in the compost bin.

I learnt from the builders as we went along.

Who would've thought that you could put gib board in your garden, its high gypsum content ideal for breaking down clay soils? So just when my neighbours had gotten over the sight of a carpeted hillside, gib board appeared.

Although all the windows in the house are new, I thought I would go for recycled in the sleep-out. I scouted around window manufacturers and found they often have a collection of brand new windows – "mis-orders" – going for a fraction of the cost of new ones.

I managed to get some perfect double-glazed ones from Clements, but all shapes and sizes were available from most other window manufacturers as well.

One of the loveliest things about recycling is that it is satisfying, quite good fun, and has sensory benefits.

Take untreated timber, which has the best smell, especially wood like lawsons cypress, macrocarpa and douglas fir.

I went out to Mead and Martin to get some untreated wood shavings for under-floor insulation in the sleep-out.

As the timber is processed the shavings fire out at speed into a giant bin.

Alan unlocked the huge door then left me to happily chip away at the pile at about eye level with my little coal shovel.

Suddenly a huge stash of it tumbled from above, showering me all over.

Rather than being aghast, I was able to luxuriate in a big, long sniff of wood-scented heaven. Not only that, I was happy to later donate some wood shavings to my local supermarket when they dribbled out of my trouser leg at the check-out. All for the recycling cause.

  • When Jude Ritchie decided she wanted a new house, she was determined to do as much of it herself as possible. She is writing a fortnightly column recalling the experiences.