How do I safely dispose of an old, painted picnic table?

Chili

At my friends’ cottage on Lake Huron, there is an old picnic table, covered with many coats of paint, that has been replaced by a much more stable and comfortable one. They’d like to get rid of the old table, but wonder how they should go about it. Burning it with so much paint on it doesn’t seem wise, yet leaving it at a dump to decompose can’t be much better for the environment. So far, there has been much debate but little action. Any suggestions?
–Kerri Keenan, London, Ont.

The best solution, of course, would be to give it to a table-less neighbor, or disassemble it and reuse the wood. But failing that, tell your friends to take it to a landfill.

According to Robert Duff at the Ministry of Environment and Energy’s Science and Technology branch, landfill sites are designed to control contaminants. Burning, on the other hand, represents an uncontrolled effort in which incomplete combustion could allow contaminants to be released into the air. (In case you’re wondering, only brush is supposed to be burned at landfills.)

If your friends have a choice, the picnic table (and all their other garbage too, for that matter) should be taken to an “engineered” landfill. This type of controlled facility has a clay liner to contain contaminants and may even have a leachate collection system whereby leachate collects in the bottom and is drained off through a pipe to be treated.

But even if your local landfill isn’t that sophisticated (legislation hasn’t caught up with some “dumps,” explains Duff), it’s still a better place for the picnic table than the bonfire.