The Trash Blog

Romanced by Reuse

Back when we lived in Durham Phil used to make me romantic gifts – wind chimes made of hardware, styrofoam flowers, cards sewn together with shirt buttons. Being a romantic on the cheap, Phil was not commissioning these unique gems. Instead, The Scrap Exchange was inspiring this romance.

Always a good day at The Scrap Exchange!

Always a good day at The Scrap Exchange!

We have visited a number of ‘scrap’ stores across the US (remember Urban Ore in Berkeley?) – stores where one man’s trash becomes another man’s treasure. My question is, can these reuse stores majorly reduce our waste production? Or are they just a sweet romance, fueled on good intentions, but ultimately unable to make a real dent in the problem? Ann Woodward, Executive Director of The Scrap Exchange, thinks reuse is at the heart of addressing our trash problem.

Ann (a great friend of Bryant's) met with us on a rainy Friday afternoon and gave us a tour of the store.

Ann (a great friend of Bryant’s) met with us on a rainy Friday afternoon and gave us a tour.

The Scrap Exchange is the country’s largest non-profit reuse store. This place is heaven for any artist or DIY-er. Most of what they take in are industrial discards – things like carpet scraps, weird tiny glass bottles, and film canisters. They also take some residential materials from people cleaning out the attic – postcards, photographs, old cassette tapes, and Denise Austin workout VHSs (yes, I thought about buying a few).

I was not the only one tempted to buy some old faves in the VHS section.

I was not the only one tempted to buy some old faves in the VHS section.

I love sifting through the old postcards. Last time there I read a whole stack of postcards addressed to Czelso Melosz – all of them from a certain ‘Merton’ who professed his love to Czelso for years… what more entertainment do you want on a lazy Saturday afternoon?

old photosBut no, no, reading other people’s mail is not the only perk of this place. Ronny is The Exchange’s resident piano player. This guy could give any lounge player a run for his money… just imagine shopping through a giant warehouse to live piano music. We asked Ronnie to play our song – Mack the Knife – and we cut a rug right there in the middle of the store.

We discovered Ronnie's tip jar too late - we'll need to return soon to thank him for his gift.

We discovered Ronnie’s tip jar too late – we’ll need to return soon to thank him for his gift.

Though The Scrap Exchange is a non-profit, it is nearly entirely self supporting through its own sales. Only about 10% of its budget comes from grants and donations. This is pretty impressive considering that they have 10 full time employees, plus another 22 part-time and seasonal employees. For the amount of material they process, The Scrap Exchange creates many more jobs than a recycling facility.

Ann is a big believer that reuse should happen way before we think about recycling. Recycling is usually much less efficient energy-wise: it always requires the addition of virgin materials, and the additional processing takes energy, time, and resources. Reuse, on the other hand, preserves all an object’s embodied energy and cuts down on the need for new materials. Scrap stores can be a conduit for making reuse possible, connecting people to the things they need. More than this, I think they are an essential part of promoting a culture of reuse – they keep reuse on our minds, and make it a part of how we understand our ‘stuff.’

Last month The Scrap Exchange hosted their first ‘Bootcamp‘ where people from across the country could learn how to start creative reuse centers in their towns. Maybe this could be the start of something.

This entry was written by Margaret and published on September 6, 2013 at 3:28 pm. It’s filed under Art, Non-profits, Re-Use and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “Romanced by Reuse

  1. Uncle Chris on said:

    Another great post!

  2. BJ Fusaro on said:

    Love this post! It has given me ideas!

  3. Pingback: Can Technology Solve All Our Problems? | The Trash Blog

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