Artist, handyman chips away at construction waste
February 5, 2008
A life-sized sculpture of a man on skis made from wildand fire hazardous materials, his torso made from Cottonwood, his dreadlocks made from hawthorne root looks out toward a snowy resort peak. He stands alone, but in the summer, the field surrounds him, hugging his chest, giving him company.
The artist behind the wooden skier, Dennis Dale, says the piece reminds him of himself and his arrival in Park City as a wild, wide-eyed Californian hoping to learn to ski a little, but also seeking a natural lifestyle, free from garbage, and needless waste.
The solitary skier is the product of Dale’s "Direct Recycling" concept that he defines as "the art of creative thinking that we may better utilize those things in their original form that so often get wasted." He has chipped away at the idea over 30 years during his free time and in the warmer months, scavenging materials that might otherwise end up in landfills, building benches and houses, fences and chairs for his company, Double D Endeavours. A Park City CityWide taxi driver by night, his dream is to expand his idea into the greater public consciousness.
Dale began Direct Recycling while teaching horse riding lessons at a ranch in Del Mar, Calif. in the 1970s. Frustrated with the construction industry’s disposal habits, he began collecting materials before they were dumped into landfills or burned. "I was so upset with the waste of construction scrap and the attitude of framers ‘Well, it’s not worth my time to throw a nail out,’" he remembers. "So I started taking the stuff home."
He converted his first scraps into 100 tables and chairs for Rudy’s Hidden Acres in Carmel, Calif., developing an innovative way to create chairs from old 2x4s. Later, he moved on to projects on a grander scale, building his father’s ranch out of the leftovers from the California housing boom in the 1970s, moving two houses from another farm on dollies.
In 1980, he moved to Park City to ski for "one season," packing his ideas with him. Like many residents, his plan for a single winter was extended. He stayed for 28.
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Dale began his full-time handyman business in 1992. His direct recycling can be seen around Park City and its surrounding areas in a bridge made out of Douglas fir, with railings from pruned branches from cottonwood trees and in 10 benches on local Mountain Bike trails from Alpine Fir salvaged when workers cleared foliage for Deer Valley Resort’s Lookout housing development. On Old Ranch Road, Dale crafted the fence and entrance to the Dancing Crane Lane ranch using one-third of an old fence from the Park City Cemetery and a century-old forge-welded wrought-iron gate.
Dale maintains that the issue of construction waste is "a much bigger problem than the public is aware of as much a part of the disaster to our planet as anything else."
"I have been screaming for 28 years that we can’t throw that stuff away," he says. "And I went through a lot of hardships because of my dedication to (that message.)"
Statistics aggregated on Deconstructioninstitute.com, a Web site provides educational materials about the environmental impacts of construction, supports Dale’s claims. One fact, attributed to The United States Environmental Protection Agency, estimates U.S. companies generate 136 million tons of building-related construction and demolition waste per year. Annually, the country’s building demolition produces 124,670,000 tons of debris each year, the site claims, burying 33 million tons of wood-related construction and demolition debris into landfills.
Summit County construction has contributed to the numbers. According to Recycle Utah, in 2001, residents landfilled 44,000 tons in 2001. In 2000, the county buried 18,114 tons of wood into Henefer Landfill, consisting primarily of virgin pieces of wood.
Part of Dale’s vision is to incorporate deadwood from forests that needs to be removed to prevent fire hazards.
"I was a wild land firefighter for the Unita forest, Heber Ranger District, Engine 811 and that gave me the opportunity to see a lot of the problems we’re facing in our forests and the horrible forest fires," he says.
Dale argues that human beings have been too good about preventing fires and it has backfired, interfering with the forests’ natural cycle. "In a normal situation every 20 years, a fire would sweep the floor," he says. "Now, bigger fires are created because there’s so much deadwood and it takes down healthy trees. These fires are releasing too much smoke into the atmosphere, destroying our watersheds, creating mudslides."
Dale acknowledges that progress in Summit County is already underway, noting the established Good Wood Project at the Recycle Utah Center he helped to build.
The Good Wood center currently prevents 25 truckloads of construction waste per month from going to the Henefer Landfill. The value of the truckloads that do not get recycled is immeasurable, according to Insa Reipen, executive director of Recycle Utah. "It’s a huge amount of waste can we measure it or document it? I don’t know," she says. "The building season is fairly short (in Summit County) and considering the snow this year, probably even shorter and there’s no incentive in this county to not throw away."
Kevin Callahan, Summit County’s Public Works administrator, says the 15-acre Henefer Landfill has about 12 to 15 years left at its current rate of use. Of the 35,000 tons of waste deposited into the site per year, about 14,000 tons consists of wood. He says his department is actively looking for other alternatives to recycle some of the waste, among them, burning wood as fuel at a cement plant or separating usable, untreated would to grind into mulch.
"If we find a way to significantly recycle, we can extend (Henefer Landfill’s) life to 20 to 25 years," Callahan says. "We’re not in an emergency situation, but we definitely are within that planning horizon where we need to be looking at other alternatives."
Dale says his dreams are bigger. He wants a Home Depot-style chain for direct recycling, where people would be encouraged to go out into forests to harvest in an ecologically-sound way.
"Insa has done a great job with the Good Wood Project," he says. "But it needs to be done on a much more massive level."
The idea would be to claim wood before it is dumped into landfills, he says, giving furniture-makers and carpenters an obvious and accessible alternative to traditional hardware stores and lumber yards. He asks the public to create the demand for his environmentally-minded business and sees their participation as a deciding factor when it comes to the world’s future.
"By paying attention to what we buy, by buying stuff that sustains our world like earth-friendly power, we can cast our own vote for what direction we want to see our planet go," he says.
Deconstructing construction waste
Numbers compiled by deconstructioninstitute.com.
-The United States Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that US companies generate 136 million tons of building related construction and demolition (C&D) waste per year. 92 percent of building-related C&D waste is from renovation and demolition.
-The demolition of a typical 2,000 square foot home can be expected to produce 127 tons of debris. While disposal fees can vary widely depending upon local conditions, at an average rate of 25 dollars per ton, disposal costs for a residential demolition would come to $3,175.
-An average home contains about 4,700 pounds of steel and 770 pounds of recyclable plastics. If carefully deconstructed, these materials could be recycled into new products with a net savings (or preservation of embodied energy) of 59 million Btu’s (513 gallons of gas equivalent).
– The average single family home contains 5,174 pounds of steel and 1,830 pounds of plastics. Net green house gas reduction from recycling this material is 2,956 pounds, a benefit equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide absorption of 114 trees.
-With an 80 percent diversion of waste, deconstruction could save $2,540 in disposal costs over demolition.
-Statistics show that the demolition of buildings in the United States produces 124,670,000 tons of debris each year. One year’s worth of waste can build a wall 30 feet high and 30 feet thick around the entire coast of the continental United states (4,993 miles
-Each year the United States buries about 33 million tons of wood-related construction and demolition debris in our landfills. As anaerobic microorganisms decompose this wood, it will release about 5 million tons of carbon equivalent in the form of methane gas.This is equivalent to the yearly emissions of 3,736,000 passenger cars.