Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 139, March 2017 Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
The Down to Earth Woodworker
By Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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A Little Trash Talk

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

The business world temporarily adopts certain words, they become fad, they fade, and then they get recycled. One such word currently in vogue is "cadence." Listen to businesspeople today and they refer to a cadence to meetings, a cadence to product development, a cadence to employee performance reviews, and a cadence to sales initiatives. So, to borrow that word, there is a cadence to trash collection and it is presently totally out of whack.

In my quadrant of the township, trash is collected every Thursday. Recyclables are collected every-other-Thursday. The cadence is reversed from real-life need. My recyclable bin is full by the third or fourth day after it is emptied and my trash container is never more than half-full on Thursday, often much less.

Judging by the post-Christmas sales numbers and the full year-over-year sales results, the exponential growth of on-line shopping is continuing unabated. Like many, if not most, woodworkers, I get virtually all my tools and most of my supplies via internet suppliers. Add that to the non-woodworking things we order online and it is staggering to realize how much our shopping habits have changed. And guess what? All that stuff we order is delivered in cardboard boxes. Lots and lots of cardboard boxes.

I've always been a big proponent of recycling. Where it makes a profitable business case, the idea of recycling paper and cardboard is way better than cutting down more trees… timber that could otherwise be used in our shops to make nice things.

But the frequency of trash and recycling pick-up is opposite the need given the exploding collection of cardboard boxes. And to exacerbate the situation, our community's "trash" rules are ridiculous. The township provides (with our tax dollars, of course) two huge wheeled containers, perhaps sixty gallons if they were measured that way, one with a black hinged lid designated for trash only, the other with a blue lid for recyclable materials only. The containers are designed to be picked up and dumped into the back of a truck by a mechanical arm operated from within the truck's cab.

Figure 7 - You can't tell it here, but these containers are big... but they don't seem to hold
nearly enough! Especially the recycling bin.

Rule one states that on alternate Thursdays, when both the trash and recyclable bins must be put out by the road, the containers must be placed on either side of the driveway. I understand that some separation in space is needed so the truck's mechanical arm can get to each container easily, but if everyone places their containers on either side of the driveway, the roadside rural-style mailboxes are blocked and the mail truck cannot deliver mail. Our letter carrier might as well take the day off on alternate Thursdays. Someone was grossly "out of cadence" with reality when they made up that rule.

The second big rule states that no trash or recyclables can be outside of the containers and that the hinged container lids must be fully closed. A couple of weeks ago my neighbor's recyclable bin was full and the lid was partially open, about two inches, from being stuffed with (what else?) cardboard. The truck passed it right by and didn't even slow down. Two inches from being fully closed! Logic would indicate that two weeks later, my neighbor's recyclables will have at least doubled in volume and there will be no way of catching up. Where's the cadence in that?

Figure 8 - I know, it is filthy... but cleaning it is a springtime job!
The rules go on to state that cardboard must be cut down to a maximum size not to exceed 20 inches in width or length. Cutting up cardboard has turned into a very time-consuming, somewhat dangerous, and expensive job. As previously stated, I'm a big fan of recycling, but I'm going through box cutter blades like peanuts at a baseball game. A razor knife blade dulls after about four cuts in cardboard, and a dull blade is dangerous. All those dull metal blades must be disposed of, too.

A dozen more rules cover exactly what can be put in the recycling bin. No wood is allowed. I sort of understand that rule. People, particularly non-woodworking people, would be disposing of rotted wood, wood with nails, chemically treated wood, painted wood, and even things that "look" like wood. But it creates a real problem for me, a fastidious recycler who abhors the thought of "wasted" wood.

Glass, paper, cardboard, and metal can be placed in the recycling container and these items are readily identifiable, but plastic gets a little trickier. If you are not a chemist and cannot instantly recognize one type of plastic from another, it is likely you will be out of compliance with the rules. The rules name specific formulations of plastic with long chemical names, and I have no idea what the difference is between most of the types, nor do I care to learn. The only thing I know for sure is that Styrofoam is verboten. Isn't it amazing that manufacturers still ship products protected with those huge chunks of custom formed Styrofoam?

Disposing of Styrofoam is a nightmarish undertaking. It has to go into the trash container, but if it is too big, it has to be broken down. If you try to break up big chunks of the stuff so they fit in the trash can, tiny bits of Styrofoam will wind up all over the place. The only tidy way I have found to break up chunks of Styrofoam is to put them in a contractor-style trash bag, seal up the bag, then stomp on it until the blocks are crushed and broken. If I buy something packed and padded by formed chunks of Styrofoam, my trash container will certainly be full that week.

Bins must be placed at the curb no later than 8:00AM, and cannot be put out the night before (so much for sleeping late on a Thursday). I have visions of jack-booted storm troopers breaking down the front door on my house to arrest me if I put my trash containers out the night before, so I just don't. There are a lot of rules, some silly, and some that make sense, but it all boils down to this… the geniuses at City Hall have not figured out that their cadence of trash collection is, as my Dad used to say, "bass-ackward."

On alternate Thursdays an overhead view of my neighborhood must look a bit like a video arcade game as neighbors scurry back and forth and up and down the street opening one another's trash and recycling bins. We are all a pretty neighborly and accommodating group, so like foxhole buddies warring against a stupid governmental system, we all look for partially filled containers and dump our extra "stuff" in a neighbor's container when possible. Getting rid of trash and recycling items should not be this hard. But, as you might surmise, trust the old Down To Earth Woodworker to have a solution.

From an awful book they forced me to read in school, The Scarlet Letter , I finally got a worthwhile idea. Woodworkers should be given a big "Scarlett W" to affix to their trash and recycling bins thereby granting us special dispensation. Since we are stellar citizens, committed recyclers, and generally very neat people, we deserve special treatment.

I've been looking into my own woodworking trash production… and the fact is, there isn't much there. Forgetting for a minute the cardboard boxes, we woodworkers simply don't produce much real "trash." In fact, I probably go a month or more before emptying the trash can in my shop. I pulled the half-full bag out of the can the other day and here is what I found…
  • An empty Titebond glue bottle
  • Several extremely small cut-off pieces of pre-primed wood from a trim job
  • 3 dull razor knife blades, each wrapped with a little duct tape to prevent anyone from cutting themselves on the used blade
  • A pencil that was less than 2 inches long… it just can't be sharpened anymore at that length
  • Some small bits of blue painter's tape I used to hold something temporarily in place
  • 4 paper towels I used when doing glue-ups
  • 2 dead AA batteries

Fact is, we woodworkers don't produce a lot of trash. We are cheap… I'm sorry… frugal, and the nature of our craft is such that the only by-product of woodworking is smaller and smaller bits of wood. We deserve special treatment. A giant scarlet "W" on our waste bins would let city workers know… the rules can be bent a bit at this house because this person is a woodworker. A few hundred extra pounds of cardboard stacked next to the bin? Jump out of the truck and toss it in… it will only take a minute. Lid not fully closed on the recycling bin? Pick it up anyway… this guy knows what he is doing.

I'm going to propose this to the City Council. I'm also going to propose a community "Woodworker's Appreciation Day." My third proposal will be that from mid-November to the end of January the pick-up of recyclables be done weekly instead of every-other-week. One thing I've learned lately is to propose something totally outrageous along with the thing you really want, and then you are more likely to get that smaller thing you really want. Where did I hear that?

There are at least a dozen projects going on at the same time in the Down To Earth Woodworking shop. Two picture frames, one of Purple Heart and the other in Leopardwood. I've got a shop fixture to build, I need to make some new push sticks, a dozen or so cutting boards, a door, a live-edge slab table, and there is a big log I want to split down and use to make something decorative. I have absolutely no idea which one I will write about next, but I do know for sure that there is now some firm science backing up one of my long held beliefs… that woodworkers are smarter… way smarter… than most people. Next month I will share the proof. You are sure to be surprised. Also be sure to check out this month's video for the start of a new project!

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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life). Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson@downtoearthwoodworking.com

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