Building R&R (Reuse and Recycling)

I’ve settled on a date for the group walk: Saturday, May 7, starting at 10:00 a.m. If you’d like to join me on a walk through the Inner Harbor area, I’ve put together a Group Walk Information page with all the details.


My wife and I are some of those rare people who actually keep two cars in their two-car garage. Even though it houses our cars, our garage, like most, also serves a number of other functions. For instance, it contains a pretty decent workshop that includes a handful of large, stand-mounted woodworking tools. It also serves as storage for a fair amount of stuff, some in cabinets (paint, bulk items such as TP and soap, smaller power tools, wood scraps), and some hanging on the walls (bikes, ladders, hand tools). As well, our garage is where we accumulate those things that need to be recycled or disposed of but cannot (or should not) go into the rolling bins that get picked up each week by Recology. This includes clothing and household items that are still in good shape and thus can be donated, dead batteries, fluorescent bulbs, outdated or broken household electronics, and the like.

These accumulated items had been piling up in various locations within our garage and were starting to annoy me, so recently I decided to spend a weekend reorganizing part of the garage. My first step was to make some room by getting rid of everything that could be recycled or disposed of. I made a list of what I had, worked out where I could take it, and then took it there. Here is the list I came up with:

  • Usable clothing and household items: there are plenty of places that will take this kind of thing. I took mine to Savers (downtown, on Main Street—although the drop-off is in the back, on Walnut Street). You might prefer The Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Goodwill Industries
  • Electronics, household electrics and cables: these can go to the Shoreway Recycling Center, or can be donated to an electronics drive at a local school, church, or other non-profit.
  • Dead batteries: I put mine into a clear food storage bag that I put on top of my blue recycling cart. Alternatively I could have taken them to the Shoreway Recycling Center.
  • Old cell phones: I dropped the one I had off at Best Buy in San Carlos, but I could have treated it like a dead battery, putting it in a clear bag on my blue recycling cart.
  • Fluorescent bulbs: Hassett Hardware (in Woodside Plaza) takes them. I handed mine to a cashier on my way into the store.
  • Unused/outdated medications: I dropped ours into the secure bin for these at the Shoreway Recycling Center (on Shoreway Road, just north of the San Carlos Airport).
  • Old eyeglasses: LensCrafters in Menlo Park (on El Camino Real) apparently takes these. I actually gave ours to our optician.
  • Sharps: the Shoreway Recycling Center has a secure bin where these can be dropped off.
  • Wire hangars: I took our accumulated stack to Broadway Cleaners (on Main Street, behind Harry’s Hofbrau).
  • Sensitive documents: I took mine to my local UPS store, where they charge per pound to shred them.
  • Old smoke detectors: unfortunately, it seems our only option is to mail these back to the manufacturer, which is what I had to do. But I called the manufacturer and they emailed me a postage-paid mailing label, so getting rid of the two I had didn’t cost me anything.
  • Styrofoam: I’m delighted to report that Green Citizen (in Burlingame) takes it! You have to pay, but not very much: $5 for a 30-gallon bag full. They only take clean, EPS number 6 styrofoam, but it can be any shape. All of the styrofoam I had was of the allowed type (it is stamped with a triangle with “PS 6” inside), fortunately.

Except for the shredding and the styrofoam, it cost me nothing (other than time) to get rid of it all. I truly hate having to throw styrofoam away, knowing that it’ll just end up in a landfill. If they can reuse it—I presume that they break it down into small pieces and either turn it into packing peanuts or make it into new styrofoam shapes—I certainly have no problem making the trip to Burlingame and paying the small fee.

Incidentally, if you have good, usable building materials (doors, windows, countertops, cabinets, etc.) or large appliances that you are willing to donate—or if you are on the lookout to obtain something along that line—be sure to visit the ReStore on Industrial Road in San Carlos. They accept usable items and then sell them to the public, with profits going to Habitat for Humanity. This is a tremendous source of inexpensive building materials (most used, but some new!) for smaller building projects. If, like me, you like to build or fix things around the house, I highly recommend a visit. And note that they have large appliances (ranges, washers, dryers, and the like) as well as furniture. This place truly is a treasure trove for many of us!

As you can tell, I am a big fan of recycling and I recycle everything I can. (My wife and I once recycled an old hide-a-bed couch, tearing it apart into its component pieces and recycling the metal. I kept a lot of the wood from the couch’s frame and employed it in projects for my garage and yard. It was a lot of effort—couches aren’t made to be taken apart—but it turned out to be both fun and enlightening.) Given my penchant for recycling, you can just imagine what a thrill it gives me to see a building get recycled. Back in February I enjoyed watching the old apartment building at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Franklin Street come down (see my post The Sky’s the Limit). The contractors carefully separated the wood, metal, concrete, and other building materials into piles and then sent each off to the appropriate place to be recycled.

Of course, while recycling a whole building is great, “reuse” is even better. I occasionally walk down Broadway beyond Woodside Road, and over the past nine months or so watched the transformation of the huge two-story slab-sided concrete building at 899 Broadway (at the corner of Broadway Street and Charter Street). Here is a picture of the building early on in the construction phase, not too long after the windows were stripped from it:

Most recently this building was the home of Metro Auto+Body, an automobile body shop, although from the shape of the building and the number of large roll-up doors on both Charter Street and on Broadway it seems to have been originally built as a warehouse. Regardless, W. L. Butler, a Redwood City-based construction firm, has transformed the building for its new tenant, Pentair Thermal Management. Pentair Thermal is a “full service designer and integrator of optimized heat management systems”: they offer “quality products and service solutions for floor heating, fire and performance wiring, leak detection, sensing, and snow melting & de-icing for industrial, commercial and residential applications.” Construction is now complete, and the reused building truly has been transformed:

The Pentair Thermal building still shows some evidence of its former life, however. Sometimes a building can be reused in such a way that you cannot discern the original among the finished product. Consider this one:

It may look familiar: it’s a new Orchard Supply Hardware store. Redwood City already has one, on Middlefield Road just below Woodside Road, so where might this one be? Why, it’s in San Carlos. Specifically, you’ll find it on Industrial Road north of Holly Street, across from Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s new San Carlos Center. I rarely drive that section of Industrial, and had never walked it, so when I noticed it on the list of San Carlos building projects I just had to walk up there and check it out. The above picture is a couple of weeks old, so it likely looks a lot different now. However, I visited it at a good time; I was able to see something that I’m guessing is no longer visible:

This view of the building’s northwest side struck me as strange at first, but I quickly realized that the builders were reusing an existing building simply by constructing a shell around it. The window frames you see here will likely be filled with opaque glass, completely blocking the view of the inner building. This allows Orchard Supply to construct their building using their corporate style, while continuing to make use of the existing structure. Encapsulating a building in this fashion is probably a rare thing, but this may have been cheaper than tearing down and recycling the original building.

In case you are curious, as I was, the building to the south of the new Orchard Supply seems to be of the same style as the one that is now entombed within the OSH building, so you can still get some idea of what the original probably looked like:

Finally, let me turn back to Redwood City for one last bit of reuse, or should I say “re-cycling”? Cyclismo Cafe, the latest in Redwood City eateries is rapidly pedaling towards their opening. The cafe, which will be located on Theatre Way next to Portobello Grill, seems to be nearly done inside (and, incidentally, they’re now hiring baristas and kitchen prep staff). Cyclismo Cafe has claimed their share of the sidewalk space for outside seating using a very clever custom railing that highlights their cycling theme:

Cyclismo Cafe bills themselves as an “organic cafe and bike boutique.” They have yet to post their menu to their website; I’m really curious to see just what they’ll be serving. But I love their use of bicycle wheels for their railing; it not only accentuates their theme, it also is an ideal way to reuse old bike wheels.

Recycling cans, paper, and plastic is pretty much second nature to most of us these days. But a lot more can be recycled, from fluorescent bulbs and smoke detectors to styrofoam, all the way up to entire buildings. Just as “reuse” is always better than “recycling” (and, of course, the third R—“reduce”—is even better still) with paper, containers, and the like, so too is it with buildings. These days our area exhibits great examples of buildings being both recycled and reused. With all of the new construction and all of the growth we are experiencing, I for one am glad to see that the unwanted buildings are at least being handled in a responsible fashion.

3 thoughts on “Building R&R (Reuse and Recycling)

  1. Pingback: Northern Exposure | Walking Redwood City

    • It’s kind of fun to see just how much you can get rid of without tossing it in the trash. These days we put very little in our one small trash can, even to the point where we could live with an every-other-week trash pickup, not that we have that choice…

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