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Reuse Centers Thrive in Economic Recession

Some organizations are finding that one man's trash is another man's treasure. Reuse Development Organization, or ReDO, is a non-profit group that promotes and educates companies on the reuse of everything from electronic equipment to kitchen cabinets. They say business is thriving for the reuse industry as more people are tightening their purse strings in a tough economy and trying to live “greener” lives.

At a warehouse in the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore, Maryland, business is brisk as customers are busy buying everything – from building materials to appliances.

One customer, Joy Goldsmith, picked up some ceramic tiles. "They have a lot of things that can be used again. They look good and it is very good price."

Goldsmith says she bought mirrors, windows, and doorknobs on previous visits for her home improvement project. She is one of thousands of frequent shoppers at The Loading Dock, a non-profit reuse center specializing in building materials.

Leslie Kirkland, the executive director there, is trying to salvage doorknobs from a broken door. "There are two sides of our mission. One is saving materials that are still useful from just being destroyed and land filled, and (the other is) putting them into the hands of people who want to save money on building supplies. We act as a clearinghouse, she explains."

The membership-based reuse center was founded 25 years ago in a small warehouse. Today, the facility has expanded to more than 4,000 square meters and has more than 5,000 members.

All the materials at the Loading Dock are donated. Kirkland says donors can get tax benefits. "Anyone who is generating a new or used building product, whether it be a company who has excess inventory in the warehouse and that is now considered it needs to be disposed of, or an individual contractor. Materials they are pulling out of projects or leftover materials can all be donated to us."

The materials are sold for a nominal handling fee, about 10 to 30 percent of what the price would be in retail stores.

The Loading Dock is popular not only to homeowners but also to small contractors such as Greg Mayo. "This is where I get the best deals,” he says. “You get the best deals here. A lot of things allow you to work on your creativity to make things look good."

However, the reuse center has also felt the pinch of the economic recession. "It is the supply side that is affected by what is going on with the economy now,” says Kirkland. “They are clearing out their warehouse because they are closing down. So they won't be a repeat donor. A renovation job or a demolition job may be on hold because of financing. They won't be able to generate used materials coming out of a project." But Kirkland says the demand side is still strong, and not just because it is easy on the wallet.

Charles Thrasher is a property developer. He told us, "I try to use the recycled materials – not only to save money and – it helps out the environment. Like this lumber that I am going to put on a ceiling; all I have to do is lightly sand it and polyurethane it. Then it will make a great looking beam ceiling."

Many materials here are either outdated or not needed. Yet some still can see value in them. Lillian Edwards came for a screen door and found another deal. “And I saw it (a small wooden chest) and it cost only $5.00. I said, ‘Oh, I can afford that’."

Edwards says she will refinish and stain the chest and it will look good in her house. Even though it will take her almost one hour to drive back home, she says the trip to the Loading Dock was worth it.