Oh Wise Umbra,

We’ll be replacing our carpeting with wood flooring, probably from one of the major home stores (Home Depot or Lowe’s). Are wood floors a really bad environmental choice if they are made from unsustainably harvested wood? Would I be better off going with a (probably petroleum-based) fake wood floor? Also, is there any environmentally responsible way to dispose of my old carpet? If the nice garbage collectors pick it up, I’m sure it will sit in a landfill till long after I’ve made it to the spirit world.

Also, I’ve got loads of things in the house that need to be either stripped of paint or painted over. What’s the best way to deal with the detritus from this process — the gummy globs of removed paint and the bits left in the bottom of my paint cans?

Many thanks,
A New Homeowner Trying to Do Right by the World
Durham, N.C.

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Dearest Newbie,

It’s possible to find new wood flooring certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. In addition, some superstores are starting their own sustainable-wood programs, so if you can’t find FSC stock locally, ask Home Despot and Woe’s what they can promise you about the source of their flooring. If nothing else, doing so will send a message. Also, look around for salvaged flooring: Not only will your floor be environmentally friendly, it’ll come with that warm, lovely, older-floor look. Finally, if at all possible, please patronize a locally owned small lumber store.

Paint in the neck.

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The real reason I’m answering your question, however (as we’ve already gone over wood issues in previous columns) is that I want to mention bamboo. Bamboo, that fast-growing, renewable panda snack, is rising in popularity as an alternative to traditional Western flooring. The bamboo is split and flattened to make all sorts of wooden surfaces, including floors. It looks like narrow-slat flooring, and is tough, resilient, and beautiful. (Really. I’ve seen it.) It may provide just the renewable, chic look you’re seeking.

Also, I wanted to take this opportunity to say something about solid-waste disposal. A general rule with nearly empty paint cans is to leave them open until the paint solidifies and then throw them in the trash. However, with leftover paint and potentially lead-based paint chips, you must call your local solid-waste agency and see what it recommends. This is true for all confounding trash bits, from paint globs to medicine bottles. My city is quite on top of solid-waste issues and offers many options for keeping toxics out of the waste stream, but in some municipalities, you can’t even recycle glass. You’ll need to contact your own solid-waste agency to find out what can be done with sundry trash bits. If your choices are too limited, it may be time to lobby for improvements in the local solid-waste policy. You may find plenty of room for old paint cans on the mayor’s lawn.


P.S. I nearly forgot about your carpet. The U.S. EPA is developing a recycling program in cooperation with carpet manufacturers, so you could look into that and see if it’s already available in your area. I know of two re-use options: look into donating or selling it, if it’s in good shape, or use it to smother grass in your yard then throw it out.

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