Tag Archives: reuse

Eau Claire-area artists turn felled ash trees into artwork

When Tim Brudnicki looks at the stacks of milled ash wood drying in a shed on his rural Caryville property, he sees more than the blond-colored hard surfaces adorned with swirled orange-brown lines that make up the wood’s grain.

He also envisions tabletops and headboards and other furniture he will create from wood he is giving a second life.

Tim Brudnicki, the owner of Eau Claire Woodworks, is one of three regional artisans taking part in an effort to turn some of the 300 or so healthy ash trees the city of Eau Claire is proactively cutting each year into attractive and useful furniture and works of art.

Previously, that wood has been churned into mulch or turned into pulpwood. But now, thanks to a partnership involving the city of Eau Claire, a Madison-based entity seeking to reuse downed urban trees and local artisans such as Brudnicki, those ash trees that lined many city boulevards are being used for other purposes.

“This is a great way of finding better uses for this wood that was otherwise going to a lesser purpose,” he said.

The idea for turning felled ash trees into locally produced furniture and art has its roots in the city’s management of its public ash tree population. As the emerald ash borer, a green beetle that infests and destroys ash tree populations, surfaced in recent years in the Northeast and spread to the Midwest, city forestry officials decided to thin the 7,000 ash trees on boulevards, parks and other public lands in an effort to slow the damage.

Four years ago the city began felling ash trees on public property. As city forester Todd Chwala watched one ash after another come down, he hoped there was a better use for them than being ground into wood chips or used for pulpwood.

Chwala and other city officials met in summer of 2014 to determine how to accomplish that goal. They enlisted the assistance of Leadership Eau Claire, a leadership training program operated by the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce.

The group took on the project and ultimately contacted Wisconsin Urban Wood, a Madison nonprofit organization that promotes using wood produced by urban forestry operations and believes that such wood can be used for such purposes as lumber, furniture and works of art. The organization agreed to work as a conduit between the city and artisans such as Brudnicki who want to use the ash trees.

and artisans such as Brudnicki who want to use the ash trees.

Cut ash trees are piled at the former brush site along Jeffers Road. The three artisans currently working in conjunction with Wisconsin Urban Wood — Brudnicki; Julie McFadden, who owns Eco Urban Timber of Eau Claire; and J.R. Salzman, who owns Salzman Custom Sawing near Downsville _ choose from the logs at the site. They don’t pay for the wood but are responsible for hauling it to the locations where it will be dried and milled before they turn it into products.

Matthew Staudenmaier, city forestry division supervisor, said the urban wood renewal program makes sense in that it turns a waste product into items of value while adding to Eau Claire’s arts scene.

“These people are finding lots of uses for that same wood before was viewed as waste,” he said.

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Brudnicki approached a stack of ash drying at his property and pointed to one thick slab, noting its twisting, prominent grain. A longtime carpenter in the Milwaukee area before moving five years ago to rural Eau Claire with his wife and two children, he said he hadn’t previously worked with ash and has been surprised at its hard nature and attractive appearance.

“It looks and acts a lot like oak,” Brudnicki said. “It can be difficult to work with too because of the twists and turns of the grain. A lot of people don’t like that in a wood. They like straight grain because it’s easier to work with. But this grain is what gives this wood its character. It’s what allows me to give some of these pieces an artistic flair.”

Brudnicki is doing just that with the pieces of ash he has procured. Nick Meyer, the publisher of Volume One who is one of the owners of the Oxbow Hotel, commissioned Brudnicki to create much of the furniture, everything from bed headboards to end tables to the front desk, for the hotel currently under construction.

Brudnicki is making most of those items from reclaimed ash. He noted how the wood’s distinctive coloration makes its swirled grain stand out and how the knots and burls in the wood help form artistic curves he can work with.

“For me, that’s where the artistic beauty of this wood is,” he said.

Meyer was attracted to Brudnicki’s craftsmanship after he began selling items at the Local Store, which Meyer owns, and he subsequently hired him to make furniture for the hotel. The ash trees are a great fit for the hotel, where the aim is to give patrons an authentic Eau Claire feel, Meyer said.

“We really want to make Eau Claire be a big part of this hotel, and this is a very direct way to do that, to take trees that were growing in this place and turn them into our furniture,” Meyer said.

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McFadden praised the ash reuse effort, saying it feels good as an artisan to extend the lives of the felled trees rather than see them go to waste.

“It’s wonderful. It’s giving this wood a new home, and that is a really good thing,” said McFadden, who in addition to building her business works at Chippewa Valley Technical College as a software development teacher and a grant manager.

McFadden’s business was born from the ash tree reuse effort. She was part of the 2013-14 Leadership Eau Claire team that initially discussed the idea, and she later attended a training seminar in Spring Green designed to help attendees learn how to reuse urban wood. Many of her products combine wood, light and etching in creative ways.

“My business really sprang from this urban wood idea, so it has special meaning to me,” McFadden said, noting she hopes to continue to grow her business and turn more ash into products people can enjoy.

Brudnicki has growth plans too. He hopes to create one line of his business specifically dedicated to reusing urban wood.

He recalled a trip shortly after he moved here and started his business to a gallery in the Pepin County community of Stockholm. He had created two new tables that included a hollowed-out section inlaid with pebbles designed to impart the idea of a flowing river. His business was struggling at the time, and he doubted whether the objects would sell. Moments after he arrived at the gallery a woman bought both works, giving him confidence that maybe his business would survive after all.

Now, thanks in part to the urban ash project, he said, his business is thriving.

“I am so fortunate, and this program has been what I needed to take my business to the next level,” Brudnicki said. “This is a way to give these trees new life, and it feels good to be a part of that.”

Plastic bag manufacturers push to overturn California ban

Plastic bag manufacturers on Oct. 10 passed their first hurdle in their effort to delay and eventually repeal California’s new ban on single-use plastic shopping bags before it takes effect.

The office of Attorney General Kamala Harris cleared the way for the groups to begin collecting signatures for a referendum vote on the ban on the November 2016 ballot.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the first statewide ban on plastic bags, citing a “torrent” of plastic pollution in parks and waterways. It followed one of the fiercest legislative battles of the year, pitting bag makers against environmentalists.

If opponents of the law submit more than 500,000 signatures by January, the ban would not take effect until voters weigh in.

A national coalition of plastic bag manufacturers says voters will be on their side when they learn the law, SB270, authorizes a 10-cent fee for paper bags that are now often provided for free.

“If this law were allowed to go into effect it would jeopardize thousands of California manufacturing jobs, hurt the environment, and fleece consumers for billions so grocery store shareholders and their union partners can line their pockets,” Lee Califf, executive director of the American Plastic Bag Alliance, said in a news release.

Under the statewide ban, large grocery stores must stop carrying single-use bags by July 2015. Pharmacies, liquor stores and convenience stores must comply the next year.

Manufacturers’ fight against the legislation comes as plastic bag bans have been gaining momentum across the country, including in the cities of Chicago, Seattle and Austin. In California, more than 100 cities and counties, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, already ban plastic shopping bags at checkout counters.

An environmental group that supports the ban has vowed to fight the referendum.

“We are confident that Californians will repeat history by rejecting an effort by an out-of-state, special interest polluter funded misinformation campaign to overturn a popular law,” Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, said in a news release.

Records show the American Plastic Bag Alliance has spent at least $140,000 lobbying the California Legislature and the governor’s office in the first six months of the year.

California is 1st state to ban plastic bags

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at grocery and convenience stores, driven to action by pollution in streets and waterways.

A national coalition of plastic bag manufacturers immediately said it would seek a voter referendum to repeal the law, which is scheduled to take effect in July 2015.

Under SB270, plastic bags will be phased out of checkout counters at large grocery stores and supermarkets such as Wal-Mart and Target starting next summer, and convenience stores and pharmacies in 2016. The law does not apply to bags used for fruits, vegetables or meats, or to shopping bags used at other retailers. It allows grocers to charge a fee of at least 10 cents for using paper bags.

State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, credits the momentum for statewide legislation to the more than 100 cities and counties, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, that already have such bans.

The law marks a major milestone for environmental activists who have successfully pushed plastic bag bans in cities across the U.S., including Chicago, Austin and Seattle. Hawaii is also on track to have a de-facto statewide ban, with all counties approving prohibitions.

“This bill is a step in the right direction – it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself,” Brown said in a signing statement. “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”

Plastic bag manufacturers have aggressively pushed back through their trade group, the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which aired commercials in California blasting the ban as a cash-giveaway to grocers that would lead to a loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs.

“If this law were allowed to go into effect, it would jeopardize thousands of California manufacturing jobs, hurt the environment and fleece consumers for billions so grocery store shareholders and their union partners can line their pockets,” Lee Califf, executive director of the manufacturer trade group, said in a statement.

Padilla, the bill’s author, said Californians would reject a referendum effort and quickly adapt their behavior to help the environment.

“For those folks concerned about the 10 cent fee that may be charged for paper, the simple elegant solution is to bring a reusable bag to the store,” Padilla said.

Shoppers leaving a Ralphs supermarket Tuesday in downtown San Diego were divided as they weighed the legislation’s environmental benefits against its costs. San Diego does not ban plastic bags.

“With the amount of waste that we produce, we can try to help out by slightly inconveniencing ourselves,” said Megan Schenfeld, 29, whose arms were full of groceries in plastic bags after leaving reusable bags at home.

Robert Troxell, a 69-year-old former newspaper editor, said the fees are more than an inconvenience for retirees living on fixed incomes like him. He shops daily because he has only a small refrigerator in his hotel for low-income seniors.

“It becomes a flat tax on senior citizens,” said Troxell, who lives off social security and other government assistance. “I have not disagreed with Jerry Brown on anything – until this.”

The American Forest and Paper Association, a trade group representing paper bag makers, says the bill unfairly penalizes consumers who use their commonly recycled products, while holding reusable plastic bags to a lower standard for recyclable content.

Responding to the concerns about job losses, the bill includes $2 million in loans for plastic bag manufacturers to shift their operations to make reusable bags. That provision won the support of Los Angeles Democratic Sens. Kevin De Leon and Ricardo Lara, who had blocked earlier versions of the legislation.

Lawmakers of both parties who opposed SB270 said it would penalize lower-income residents by charging them for bags they once received for free. The bill was amended to waive fees for customers who are on public assistance and limit how grocers can spend the proceeds from the fees.

Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico also have pending legislation that would ban single-use bags, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Growing the green movement: Earth Day activities, actions, associations

Earth Day, the eco-holiday celebrated around the world on April 22, was pioneered by a U.S. senator from Wisconsin — Democrat Gaylord Nelson.

Nelson, who died in 2005, had wanted to turn attention in the United States to the environment. And so, he pushed for an annual observance to encourage the people on the planet to protect species and spaces by recycling, reusing and, perhaps most importantly, reducing.

In 1970, when the first Earth Day took place, Americans burned leaded gas in massive V8 engines. Factories belched smoke and sludge. Air pollution signaled prosperity. But, with the work of politicians such as Nelson, scientists such as Rachel Carson and a growing network of activists, there was an emerging consciousness about caring for the environment.

Nelson, looking back, would one day say that Earth Day organized itself. An estimated 20 million people participated in that first Earth Day.

This year, at least a billion people are expected to get involved in events and activities planned at local, national and international levels.

A march and rally are set for the weekend after Earth Day, with thousands expected to gather on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Beyond the beltway in the U.S., organizations were scheduling rallies, marches, lectures, community cleanups, recycling drives, environmental fairs, repurposed art shows and documentary screenings.

The Global Climate Convergence for People, Planet and Peace over Profits is a national campaign that unites social, economic and environmental justice movements for coordinated actions and education — from Earth Day to May Day and beyond. The convergence has coalitions working in more than 40 U.S. cities, including Madison.

Related events include:

• On April 17, at 6 p.m., At the River I Stand, Goodman Public Library, 2222 S. Park St., Madison, screening and discussion of the documentary about the two months before Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and King’s role in labor struggles. Information: 608-262-2112.

•  On April 19, from 2 p.m.-1 a.m., Mind Your Mother: Celebrate Earth Day! Mining Alternatives Teach-In, Fundraiser & Live Music Bash, at the Evolution Arts Collective Warehouse Space, 202 South Dickinson St., Madison. There will be anti-mining workshops, a potluck dinner, storytelling, music, door prizes and an auction. Proceeds will benefit the Bad River Legal Defense Fund and Anti-Frac Sand Mining Efforts. 

• On April 21, at noon, Peace Vigil: Environmental Impacts of War, the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Doty Street in front of the post office in Madison. The Madison Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom will feature information about the Environmental Impacts of War.

• April 21, 7 p.m., Water Is Life! Puppet Show and Thistle and Thorns, UW-Madison Memorial Union, evening of folk art and education about frac sands and iron mining in northern Wisconsin hosted by the Madison Infoshop and Madison Action for Mining Alternatives. Information: 608-262-9036.

• On April 22, at 5:30 p.m., the Earth Day March and Rally—Protect our Water – Reject the Mines and Pipelines!, departing from Monona Terrace in Madison. Plans include a march from Monona Terrace to the library mall, a 6:15 p.m. rally at the mall with speakers from 350 Madison, the Madison Action for Mining Alternatives and NoKXL Pledge of Resistance. Also: Call for Peace Drum and Dance Company.

• On April 22, 7 p.m., Rock Bottom in the Age of Extreme Resource Extraction, UW-Madison Memorial Union, Beehive Arts and Design Collective performance about fracking, mining and tar sands.

• On April 23, 7 p.m., Economic Democracy panel discussion, Madison Central Library, 201 W. Mifflin St., involving Dane County TimeBank, Wisconsin Wave and others.

• On April 24, noon, Fossil Free UW Banner Drop, UW campuses around the state, with Fossil Free UW dropping banners calling for divestment from fossil fuel companies. 

• On April 24, 5 p.m., The People’s Speakout at Veterans Plaza/30 on the Square in Madison. There will be speeches, live music, spoken word. The event is being hosted by the IWW Social Action and Solidarity Committee. For more information, call 442-8399 or 815-685-8567.

• On April 24, 7 p.m., a screening of Bidder 70, at 122 State St., Room 200, Madison. The film is about climate justice activist Tim DeChristopher, who served two years in federal prison for taking direct action in 2008 at a BLM auction to stop oil and gas drilling on thousands of acres of public land in Utah. 

• On April 26, the March and Rally for People, Peace and Planet Over Profit, noon, library mall in Madison. The Global Climate Convergence coalition marches through Madison to the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, where there will be a rally.

• On March 26, the Sustainable Saturday Night! Family-friendly Potluck, Sustainability Tribute to Pete Seeger, 6 p.m., James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 2146 E. Johnson St., Madison. There will be a community potluck dinner and a sing-along celebrating singer.

• On April 27, from 1-5 p.m., Earth Day for Peace and Justice, Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability, 2299 Spring Rose Road, west of Verona.

• On April 28, 11 a.m., at the state Capitol, Workers’ Memorial Day, an annual event to remember those who lost their lives on the job. 

• On May 1, 3:30 p.m., Brittingham Park in Madison, May Day International Workers Day March and Rally. There will be a march and rally for immigration justice, workers’ rights and a living wage for all. Demonstrators will gather at the park and march to the state Capitol. 

• On May 1, 6 p.m., May Day Celebration, Wil-Mar Center, 953 Jenifer St., Madison. An evening of food, music and speakers.

• On May 3, noon, civil disobedience training for Keystone XL pipeline protests. 

• On May 3, 9 p.m., May Day celebration, Bandung Indonesian Restaurant, 600 Williamson St., Madison. There will be a Mideast by Midwest performance and celebration of workers’ rights.

Other Earth Day events…

• On April 12, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., the Wisconsin Green Party holds its spring gathering at the Ambrosia Cooperative, 225 E. Lakelawn Place, Madison. The Global Climate Convergence will participate. And Green Party candidates will talk about their issues. For more, go the Wisconsin Green Party. 

• On April 19, from about 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at John Muir Memorial Park in Montello, there will be a celebration of Muir’s birthday and the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Organizers include the Sierra Club, the Wisconsin Friends of John Muir, the Ice Age Trail Alliance, Marquette County Healthy Communities.

• On April 19, the city of Madison sponsors the Earth Day Challenge, with cleanups planned at many parks. For more, call Anne Whisner at the city of Madison at 608-267-4919 or email

• On April 19, Friends of Wisconsin State Parks sponsors a Work Play Earth Day campaign, with activities at many state parks. Volunteers will plant trees and shrubs, install benches, remove invasive plants, stain picnic tables and help with other improvements. Activities also will take place on April 26 and May 3.

• On April 19, the Race Against Extinction fundraiser gets run in Madison to draw attention to environmental issues and bring people outdoors. Runners begin at Vilas Park. Registration is at theraceagainstextinction.org.

• On April 22, the Nelson Institute Earth Day Conference — Earth: To Be Determined — takes place at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison. Registration is underway. Actress and activist Rosario Dawson, sci-fi author China Nieville and ecologists Erle Ellis and Kevin Noon will be featured.

• On April 22, Milwaukee’s Office of Sustainability and Rock the Green hold the third annual Earth Day Celebration with an appearance by Mayor Tom Barrett, a performance by Vic and Gab and a caravan of food trucks. The event takes place 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the City Center, 735 N. Water St., Milwaukee. For more, email

• On April 26, the Milwau Environmental Consortium holds an Earth Day project at Washington Park, 1859 N. 40th St., Milwaukee. Hours are 8 a.m.-1 p.m. The Student Conservation Association at the Urban Ecology Center at Washington Park will complete service projects. For more, email August Ball at or call 414-322-8482.

Read about Gaylord Nelson and the history of Earth Day — and progressive politics in Wisconsin — here.

Have an Earth Day activity or campaign to share? Email . We also welcome announcements of ongoing environmental activities.