Joe DeRisi is a scrappy guy and he needs to be. He’s trying to find a successful model on which to build a for-profit deconstruction company. We met him on a Saturday morning in an old building where he was holding a salvage sale. Artifacts and antiques and vintage-looking materials were displayed in an otherwise stark interior.
Although he had the bright eyes of someone brimming full of energy, he sent his son for a coffee pick-me-up at the Dunkin’ Donuts across the street. Our conversation with him took place in between sales pitches to customers and regal pronouncements on the prices of various old things.
“I got my Masters of Resource Management and Administration and was working as a–that big blue jar is five dollars, but I’d sell you all three of them for ten–and I was doing this on the side anyway, salvaging things, deconstruction, and it seemed to me that I could make a business out of it.
“So I started urbanminers in 2007–eight each for the fixtures, unless you are buying the neon sign as well–we do about 10 buildings every year, completely deconstructed, we take them down to the ground and are able to reuse most things. We soft-strip another 40-50 buildings a year, salvaging cabinetry, fixtures, wood floors and things like that.–two dollars on the rods, forty-five for the desk.”
We’ve been over the massive amount of waste produced by demolition materials, so it seems like good work to salvage as much of these materials as possible. But so far, we’ve only found non-profit organizations pursuing deconstruction.
The closest thing we’ve seen to DeRisi’s Urbanminers was Urban Ore in San Francisco, but while their warehouse houses many salvaged building materials, they don’t actively deconstruct buildings.
It’s no easy feat to make a deconstruction business profitable: deconstruction costs a little more because it takes more time than bulldozing. Labor is always going to be an issue as long as we can use the future to subsidize careless waste by landfilling demolition debris.
In addition to costs, our mindset as a society still assumes that things are used to be disposed. We don’t build buildings thinking that they will be taken apart. We (mostly) don’t design products thinking about what to do with them when we don’t want them anymore.
So until the playing field evens out, Joe DeRisi is powering Urbanminers with a whole lot of energy.