Alan Sanborn: Adventure And Tight Places With The Reusables Depot – November 29, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Since June I’ve been lucky enough to be steeped in constant adventure. Mid-summer saw a short trip up Redwood Creek with Joe Mateer. And August reminded me of my age, with a heavy pack and an exhausting six days between 10,000 feet and the summit of Mt. Whitney.

But mostly, I’ve been spelunking – venturing into cold, tight, dark spaces – twisting and crawling and testing the limits of my old back. Equipped by the Arcata Community Recycling Center, I’ve been exploring places seen by only a select few human beings.

OK. I’m not exactly exaggerating, but adventure is where you can find it. I haven’t had to leave home. I’ve become quite comfortable at being uncomfortable in the crawl spaces both above and below where we live. It’s sort of an unknown world – almost outside the realm of scientific study.

First off, the fauna is much different than I expected. With the exception of mold (which is why I crawled into the unknown in the first place) it’s pretty much a dead zone. There were so few spiders under the house that I could have easily remembered their names. A few old rat traps attested to a long-forgotten presence of a few other creatures.

More apparent was the evidence of the occasional visits during the last 70 years of contractors of all stripes. Big holes, piles of concrete, asbestos, caulking tubes, chunked up wood, roofing nails (under the house?), sheet metal, cinder blocks, rocks, a veritable sudoku of wires and a spooky hanging of paltry insulation.

My initial intent was to lay down a moisture barrier on the bare ground to hopefully eliminate the moldy smell that regularly permeates our stucco house. I got the heavy sheet plastic at the Mill Yard (now contributing to Arcata’s sales tax).

Once I started squeezing myself into that dark void under the house, I noticed that the forced air heating ducts had two types of insulation: inadequate or non-existent. A few weeks earlier I had bought a toilet and tank at the Arcata Community Recycling Center’s Reusables Depot, so I checked there for duct insulation. I ended up dragging home several loads of insulated flexible ducting, taking it apart and reusing the insulation around our metal ducts.

All of which brought me back to the Reusables Depot a couple months later looking for a small bit of fiberglass insulation to stuff holes in the sub-floor. Brian told me they didn’t have a “little bit” of insulation, but would I be interested in….. and showed me a whole storage room full of roll insulation that had just come in from a re-do.

The short story is that my house was not insulated all that well – and that it is now. And that it pays to crawl around in the mysterious spaces of your house.

But that’s not why I write this.

Come sometime in January, Brian will be unemployed. So will the other two people working with him at ACRC’s Reusables Depot.

From a strictly financial point of view, that’s a big blow for me (and a bigger blow for Brian). I would guess that they have saved me maybe $1,000 this year. Aside from the insulation and the toilet, they’ve provided me with a couple hinges, a cable, a heavy duty garden hose – and a way to easily unload several large items that would never fit in my monthly trash can. I’m not alone. I run into more and more people who tell me that when they are doing home repairs – fence building or greenhouse construction – they always go first to the Recycling Center Reusables Store.

If we measure a job by the value it provides to the planet, I don’t think Arcata can afford to lose those three jobs.

I believe that the City is committed to diverting 75 percent of its solid waste from landfill – up from 50 percent now. After Wes Green’s green waste facility, I can’t think of another institution that is more important to that effort than the Reusables Depot.

I realize that the City of Arcata did its best to continue the mission of the ACRC and that the City Council is well aware of the many problems the closure will cause.

How will Fire and Light be able to get ahold of the high-quality recyclable glass that they’ve been saving from the landfill for the past decade or so? Where in Arcata will we be able to redeem our CRV containers? Will all the stores that sell beverages be forced to deal with the redeemables? Where the heck are all the used computers and TVs going to go? Into the creeks or into the slough?

While it won’t solve all of those problems, I’m wondering if there’s anything the City can do to retain the Reusables Depot. It would seem like a fairly safe business to back. The inventory costs nothing and is resold for something – I think that’s like getting something for nothing. Rent would be the problem. (Does ACRC own the Reusables lot? Could it be gifted to an organization committed to continuing the work at that site?)

Is it a service the City could take on – or something the City could help incubate? There are already three potential experienced employees who have been able to organize a well-run operation. And they’ll be available for employment soon.

My guess would be that the City could actually make money on the endeavor (bad choice of word?). And will Arcata lose money if it doesn’t meet its 75 percent solid waste diversion goal? Is the math favorable to the City keeping the Reusables Depot open?

Arcata voted against sending our recyclables and jobs out of county. Shortsighted policies by most of the rest of the county have left us with another small unemployment spike and lot of peripheral problems to deal with. One of those problems will be dealing with the mountains of stuff that they don’t want down there in Willits.

Arcata will soon see how much the ACRC has done for us over the years. I hope that the City will be able to fill the holes that are left behind.

To all those who over the years have believed in and worked hard for the ACRC’s mission, thank you! Thank you for working on the Earth’s behalf – and against a throw-away culture. I’m sorry to see those ideals get thrown away.

Alan Sanborn is a local artist who thanks contractor Kevin Patzowsky for his advice and his reusables during the spelunking project.