The Social Value of Reuse

scene at the searsport flea market
Photo: Searsport Flea Market, Searsport (Credit Cindy Isenhour)Social media comments about Maine’s reuse businesses suggest that there is a strong community-building and social element associated with the reuse economy. Visitors to flea markets and antiques malls comment on the colorful and interesting people they meet just as frequently as they write about the material treasures they find. Indeed it seems that many visitors from out of state make it a point to return to Maine’s flea markets and second hand shops to visit with their proprietors and to rekindle long-standing, if seasonal, relationship with the local community.
shelves of used things to be donated
Photo: Portland Gear Hub Workbench, Portland (Credit Courtney King)Citizens and communities are also drawing together throughout Maine to promote reuse. The Portland Gear Hub, a community-based non-profit, accepts donations of gently used recreational gear and uses the proceeds to support outdoor programming for youth. Other examples of reuse with multiple benefits include Ruth’s Reusable Resources which aims to ensure that every Maine child has the supplies he or she needs to succeed in school. Ruth’s takes donations and provides them at no cost to teachers at member schools.
basket full of used and broken handles and knobs
Photo: Treasures and Trash Barn, Searsport (Credit Cindy Isenhour)Flea markets, yard sales, antique shops and other odds and ends shops have long been a cultural institution in Maine. There are even signs that Mainers’ appreciation for reuse might be spreading. From popular television shows like Down East Dickering and the Thrift Happy Blog which features thrift tourism routes throughout Maine, it seems that Maine is bringing national attention to the benefits of reuse. After all, who knows when you’ll need a red water spigot handle?
close shot of shovel handles
Photo: Idle tools at Treasures and Trash Barn, Searsport (Credit Ben Isenhour)Many Mainers have garages, closets, drawers, attics, basements and even self- storage units crammed full of useful and valuable things not currently in use. New and emerging concepts centered on the sharing economy and collaborative consumption are intended to improve the efficiency of our economy by sharing resources. Some programs are as simple as a community tool library where residents jointly purchase or donate tools that can be borrowed by all residents. Others, facilitated by increasingly sophisticated internet applications, can help to distribute products to those who need them, when they need them.
volunteer at a take-it shop in limerick, maine
Photo: Joanne Andrews gives students a tour of the Take-it Shop, Limerick (Credit Courtney King)Some individuals have also taken extraordinary measures to prevent waste and strengthen their communities through reuse. Joanne Andrews, Solid Waste Manager and Selectman for the town of Limerick, has led a team of volunteers to create a highly successful transfer station “Take- it Shop” where community members can leave anything they no longer need for their neighbors to take, free of charge. Since starting their shop in 2004, and with the addition of more robust recycling programs, Limerick has reduced the amount of waste landfilled each year from 291 to 39 tons. And perhaps more importantly, the shop has been instrumental in helping families during times of need. In one case a fire ruined nearly all the furniture in an apartment complex. The community drew together to refurnish the apartments with donations from the “Take-it Shop.”
bin full of salvaged shelving
Photo: Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Portland (Credit Courtney King)Construction and demolition debris constitutes a surprisingly large portion of our waste stream. In fact, we landfilled more of this material than municipal solid waste in 2011. In doing so, we’ve buried resources with significant economic value, literally wasting potential wealth. Meanwhile businesses and non-profit organizations throughout Maine are focused on gathering, cataloging and marketing salvaged building materials. From Portland Architectural Salvage to Habitat for Humanity ReStore locations in York, Bangor and Portland these organizations provide opportunities for a more sustainable built environment.
old sinks and basins
Photo: Treasure and Trash Barn, Searsport (Credit Ben Isenhour) Throughout Maine there are hundreds of examples of programs designed to promote reuse. Some are intended to improve economic efficiencies or prevent waste. Others are aimed at providing low-cost goods to families, expressing care for community, protecting the environment or simply making a buck. Regardless of the inspiration, the Resourceful ME research project hypothesizes that Maine’s vibrant reuse economy is significantly undervalued. What are the local, regional and global benefits, for example, of deconstructing rather than demolishing a home so that the materials can be reused?