Apartment Life Blog

Another Man’s Treasure

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In a previous life, and in a younger man’s clothes, I had a chance to observe the world through a slightly different lens, one which frequently illuminated the simple truth that the value people place on something can vary greatly from one person to the next.

For example, my buddies and I would often buy deep fried vegetable slices and other goodies from the carts of Asian street vendors who prepared their offerings in pots of boiling oil over red hot chunks of charcoal. We figured that if nothing else, the process was going to kill anything that might pose an immediate threat to our health, and besides…all the locals ate it and the stuff was darned tasty.

What we also noticed at the time was that the treats were served up in sheets of paper rolled into cone shapes that made them easy to handle and soaked up the excess oil as a bonus. The other really interesting observation was that the paper came from unexpected sources, such as discarded maintenance manuals for U.S. fighter jets, mostly F-4’s. At the time we found it humorous and actually admired the resourcefulness of the street merchants.

If I were back there now, of course, I would not only concern myself with the source and freshness of the food stock but the serving containers as well, which were undoubtedly scrounged from a dumpster. I also wonder what kind of ink the Department of Defense specified for those manuals? Probably not soy based or lead free, that’s for sure. I suppose this is just more evidence that “youth is wasted on the young”, but a good learning experience.

A walk through the local countryside would usually turn up additional learning opportunities with regard to the perception of value. On one such occasion we curiously watched while a couple of farmers carefully washed long strips of once discarded plastic sheeting in a flowing stream. When we inquired about the activity they explained that the recycled plastic would be part of simple cold frames and that they were saving the used material for the next planting season.

When we stop to consider the materials and resources that go into construction, easily the most conspicuously consumptive activity of man, and acknowledge that fact that construction and demolition produce 30 to 40 per cent of the volume of waste going into landfills, it is hard to defend the common practices of our industry and perhaps even more difficult to understand our culture of indifference.

After all, one man’s trash can be many things to the next, maybe even shelter.

Ron Jones, Co-Founder and President of Green Builder® Media, is recognized as one of the fathers of the green building
movement. Instrumental in establishing guidelines and programs through NAHB, USGBC and a variety of regional initiatives,
he has more recently worked with the International Code Council in the development of both the National Green Building
Standard (ICC 700) and the International Green Construction Code.


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