Trash Talk: Waste diversion at The RE Store
2309 Meridian Street
At The RE Store, every day really is Earth Day.
That’s not hyperbole. Founded in 1993 as a program of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, the reuse-focused retailer currently located in Bellingham’s Fountain District has spent the past quarter-century working tirelessly to divert a dizzying array of building materials from the world’s waste stream.
On any given day, patrons perusing the offerings at the Meridian Street locale might find anything from fir flooring from the 1900s to funky kitchen cabinets first installed in the 1960s, indoor and outdoor paint, light bulbs, hardware, garden-related items, bookshelves, file cabinets, office chairs, windows, screens, doors, toilets, screws, chandeliers, lamps, sconces and far beyond.
And thanks to a new project supporting local manufacturers looking to reduce their environmental impact, sustainably savvy citizens can also peruse and purchase items such as highly tempered solar panel glass, mosaic nylon twine, cabinet doors, pallets, shipping crates of all sizes, off-spec sheets of MDF, pipe spools and more.
“Our new program, Manufacturing Waste Diversion, supports a growing number of Whatcom and Skagit County manufacturers in their efforts to reduce their waste,” The RE Store’s Marketing and Outreach Manager Samantha Hale says. “We work together to keep perfectly good material out of the landfill, all the while saving the manufacturer thousands of dollars in labor and disposal fees.”
Hale points out that, in the United States, manufacturers alone send 7.6 billion tons of useable material to the landfill each year—equivalent to throwing all the homes in Bellingham into the landfill, twice.
In the pilot program for Manufacturing Waste Diversion, The RE Store partnered with Itek Energy to make better use of their solar byproducts and help keep those numbers down. For example, instead of tossing sheets of damaged glass that didn’t meet their quality control standards, they’re now sold and used in everything from greenhouses to outdoor showers, cold frames and porch roofing panels—often built using trusted models developed by staff members. Since 2014, Itek has saved $35,000 in labor costs and disposal fees, and The RE Store has generated nearly $100,000 in sales for its Community Jobs Training Program.
“Over the past 25 years, the vast majority of usable building materials donated to The RE Store were from residents, contractors and local businesses (often retailers),” project manager Tim O’Donnell says. “This new program has a single focus—manufacturers and their byproducts and perceived waste. So basically it’s the same core goal, but with a new, broader audience.”
Since January, nascent partnerships within the program have resulted in diversions of more than 80,000 pounds of product representing $57,000 in value, making it clear that when it comes to trash talk, The RE Store isn’t fooling around.
“This program gives our community access to unique building materials at affordable prices,” O’Donnell says. “It also educates and promotes alternatives to throwing things into the landfill.”
Having just spent the afternoon creating designs for outdoor patio furniture made from pallets sourced from Itek, O’Donnell says he keeps accessibility in mind when putting together DIY plans for customers. He only builds pieces that require basic tools such as electric drills, screwdrivers and circular or chop saws, and gets additional building materials—beyond the manufacturing byproducts—directly from The RE Store. He hopes to organize a series of workshops for the community later this year to teach people how easy and fun it can be to create functional things from so-called “trash.”
“Think outside the box—or single-use container—when determining if something really belongs in the landfill,” O’Donnell says. “It takes the creativity and collaboration of our community to make this program work and to change our perception of what constitutes waste.”
For more details about the Manufacturing Waste Diversion program, go to http://www.re-store.org/explore/manufacturing-waste-diversion