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The Raccoon Guide to Resources: Wood and Plastic

Thursday, 10 October 2013 00:00 Written by  R.S.N.

You know one of the most impressive things about raccoons? Their ability to adapt to using what is essentially trash to not only survive, but thrive. The Prepper Link forum has a topic thread called “Reusing things for  prepping”.  It’s chock full of good ways to repurpose items. Raccoons take that to a whole new level. 

Other articles have covered reusing trash and items that can commonly be had for free for the garden, from creating row covers to building heat sinks and planter beds. This time the resourceful raccoon will focus on finding “trash” from small companies that can help cut costs and labor for those with a preparedness mindset.


Mulch is a pretty handy tool for gardeners. Beyond its typical weed-fighting uses, wood mulch tilled into the earth can help amend heavy clay and sand soils, improving aeration, root growth, drainage and moisture retention, and the living microbes beneath the soil line.

Landscaping companies frequently have contracts with housing associations, apartments, local businesses and private homes to keep the yard areas looking nice. One of the ways they do this is by applying mulch. Regularly, they go through and sweep up the old mulch that has faded. They then have to discard this mulch. A few phone calls can net a contracting firm that would most likely be delighted to have you go out and beat them to the mulch collecting or who would be happy to have the laborers dump their mulch into your trash cans, pickup, or on your tarp.

Timber cutting is largely the province of the Northwest, but from DelMarVa to Texas and beyond, there are companies who go in and help harvest timber and clear land. Regularly, they either leave behind large piles of woodland scag – roots, limbs, saplings – which means the landowner has to deal with the debris, or they incur the cost of hauling it out and disposing of it. Additionally, tree servicing companies routinely face the same: they have to find a way to dispose of mixed wood and less desirable mulching woods. If you have a chipper shredder, you can turn that unwanted biomass into mulch, either to use in the traditional sense or to mix into soil.

Sometimes you can deal with the contractors directly, where their labor force will load it into your vehicle instead of theirs or where they allow you on the premises to act as essentially a subcontracted salvage firm. Sometimes you have to ask the contractors to pass your name and contact information along to the land owners, then work out permission to go grab a pickup load.


Landscaping companies are notorious for one other thing besides mulch: planting stuff. In many cases, the black plastic buckets that are used end up in the trash or recycling. Now, it’s not like they’re super duper expensive to buy, but if you’re working on an indoor garden, you can save some cash and you can save the world from plastic by intercepting the gallon and two-gallon pots that would otherwise be tossed away.

They make great planters for small tomatoes, cabbages, and pea-lettuce or pea-onion combinations, both for growing indoors and for starting indoors and transferring. Especially for people who live in areas where planting out might be delayed by a freak snow storm, starting long-growing veggies like tomatoes and peppers in containers that won’t leave them stunted if they end up delayed can be helpful. They also make nice tubs for containing herbs like the mint family and chives that would spread and take over if they weren’t hemmed in.

Small limbs

Small limbs may not burn as long as big honking logs, but they’re also easier to deal with, most typically, and can be cut down to size with less powerful, throaty tools. Tree servicing companies and timber clearing contractors can be good sources for getting permission to haul out a pickup load of wood that only needs a pruning lopper to cut down to size for kindling or arctic stoves or jet stoves.

While you’re there, you might also find nice, straight limbs or saplings that can be used to shore up fences, build anti-deer and anti-goat cages or teepees around new shrubs and baby trees that are being planted, or even to use as posts for hanging nets to protect berries and gardens from birds.

One of the benefits that can be had by getting your name passed along to the owners of cleared land and timber forest is the edge habitat that will spring to life a year or two after forest has been cleared. Those area can be great for wildlife like quail, rabbits, and squirrels, and if you get permission to disc in or rake in a clover-oat or clover-birdseed-oat seed mix, can be fabulous for deer in the coming seasons. Once contact is made, find out what the landowner plans to do in the future. If it’s just being harvested for a cash crop to make ends meet or if it’s being regrown for pine, you might have your next good spot for hunting on top of the wood resources.

Scrap boards and sawdust

For people with arctic stoves that will accept wood and rocket stoves or jet stoves that have limited space for wood, carpentry-based companies in the area can be a goldmine. Window framing and repair companies, cabinet makers, framing companies for prefab sheds, contractors who deal with odd-sized doors, and small construction crews commonly end up with scrap wood.

Renovation companies routinely end up ripping out old frames and floorboards and doors, which can be used in larger fireplaces and outdoors fire pits, but the smaller pieces of refuse are perfect for smaller heaters. Smaller companies will by and large be easier to deal with than those with contracts for the giant firms. Most of them will be paying disposal fees for the scrap wood and the floor sweepings – with those disposal fees eating a bigger percentage of their budget – and be more able to relate to a “little guy.”

Sawdust can also be had from companies that deal with bulk wood. In this case, that extends to sawmills as well. Sawmills can be great sources to find pine for turning into mulch or slightly larger pieces of firewood as well, but sawdust can regularly be had by any carpentry-based outlet.

The sawdust can be mixed with dryer lint to help get fires started, or it can be added to shredded white paper or newsprint, and turned into a slurry. That slurry can be pressed into molds or rolled tightly in newsprint, allowed to dry, and be used as a long-burning arctic stove brick. Sawdust can also be used instead of cardboard for making an Altoids tin pocket stove or combined with wax in egg cartons to make an alternative type of fire starter.

Drop cloths

Periodically people pay companies to have painting and renovations done. Usually, these companies cover floors and furniture with big, shiny rolls of clear or slightly opaque plastic. And this, friends, is good for us. See, eventually it gets to the point when contractors no longer want their rolls of plastic. Normally, that plastic would join all the other wastes of modern life in a recycling or trash bin. Yes, it may have stretches where there’s too much paint, where there are holes and plaster boot prints and odd black spongy stuff. But that’s okay. A resourceful raccoon would look at a roll of this plastic and jump for sheer joy.


Plastic is awesome. (Don’t tell the other greenies I said that.) Paint-smeared sections of plastic are nice for wrapping around the outsides of hen houses and rabbit hutches to help insulate and eliminate drafts. Less messy sections can be turned into spring and winter row covers or to build layers in a temporary grow box. In conjunction with some free wooden pallets, it can be turned into a seasonal greenhouse.

Once it’s been wiped down thoroughly with bleach or pine sol and rinsed extra well, sections can be packed to be used as ground covers, emergency tents or tarps, or solar stills for water collection, or it can be used instead of a tarp when upending buckets or trash cans where potatoes have been grown.

Clear plastic can be used to make window repairs without losing visibility and with easier put-up and take-down so air circulation can still be achieved.

It can be used to line beds where a child or senior with bladder issues might be sneezing or coughing. The sheets can be trimmed to line cat carriers or dog crates to make accidents easier to clean up during a vehicle evacuation or at a storm shelter, and in conjunction with a wooden pallet or a few wire coat hangers can be used to make an emergency kitty litter box.

So where to get this fabulous plastic stuff? Some of the same places we’ve already talked about: construction companies, painting companies, window repair companies, and lawn and garden service companies. Again, small businesses are more likely to take a minute to talk to you than the big guys are sometimes.


When it comes to collecting these things, remember to shop local. It will take some internet or phone book work, a lot of time on the phone, and some driving around. Try not to nag, but when you’re dealing with a small business, a lot of times they have other things on their mind so a follow-up or two may be in order. Be gracious, because you’re the one with something to sell in this case.

Talking up the business, taking a few cards to hand out to anybody you meet who might be in the market will only help the contractor and in the long run, you. If you use the items that were collected to make something else, like fire starters or stove bricks, consider offering to bring the contractor some or tote along a little basket of your winter veggies or your early-season surplus made possible by their refuse.

If you’re uncomfortable discussing preparedness as your motivation, simply point out the frugal, environmentally friendly little raccoon that takes human waste and turns it into a fat and happy living.

Ready to forgive me for putting forth raccoons as a role model? You have to admit, they are resourceful little boogers and their ability to find resources anywhere makes them survivors. It gives them a leg up on other creatures and allows them to thrive from the alleys of New York City to the marshes of Florida, well-irrigated suburbia to farm lands, Mexico to Canada. We can apply the same resourcefulness to securing things for our homes, homesteads and preparedness supplies. By turning trash into treasures, we can have positive impacts on the environment and on our wallets, leaving more of our less disposable resources for family fun and other supplies. When it comes to scrounging like a raccoon, we’re really only limited by our imaginations.

Last modified on Thursday, 10 October 2013 02:45
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