The Power of Reuse

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Habitat for Humanity’s primary mission is pretty straightforward. Since its beginnings in 1976, the international organization has built more than 300,000 affordable homes around the world using volunteer labor and donated construction materials.

But while embarking upon this quest, the group also found a way to keep thousands of tons of surplus construction materials out of the waste stream, while also raising money for homebuilding through its Habitat ReStores. ReStores sell salvaged building supplies and appliances across the U.S. and Canada.

Earth911.com recently spoke with Kevin Campbell, Habitat for Humanity’s director of building industry relations, about the organization’s success in fostering reuse as well its other sustainable building efforts.

Need supplies for a home renovation, or have leftovers for donation? Check out the ReStore nearest you to save some cash or donate. Photo: Habitat for Humanity

Need supplies for a home renovation, or have leftovers for donation? Check out the ReStore nearest you to save some cash or donate. Photo: Habitat for Humanity

Bright Idea

Habitat had always helped to reduce waste by accepting donations of surplus construction materials for use in its homebuilding projects.

But when staffers at the Habitat affiliate in Winnipeg, Ontario started getting more donations than needed, they decided to find a way to put them to good use and opened the first Habitat ReStore in 1991, says Campbell.

Soon after, the Austin, Texas affiliate followed suit. Since then, hundreds of chapters have done likewise, and today there are more than 600 ReStores in the U.S. and Canada.

Win-Win Situation

Habitat ReStores now sell everything from surplus flooring, lumber and paint to secondhand appliances and salvaged cabinetry, all at steep discounts.

“Our primary goal is always to raise money for more homebuilding, but at the same time, we’re able to keep tons of potential trash out of the landfills,” explains Campbell.

Of course, reuse also cuts down on the need to manufacture new material, saving energy and further helping the environment. Also in the works is a partnership with a major cabinet manufacturer that will enable the ReStores to sell cabinets salvaged from homes when new ones are installed.

Silver Lining

One small, bright spot has emerged from the economic crisis: Annual sales at Habitat’s ReStores were up 25 percent in 2008. The ReStores now sell more than $200 million worth of salvaged material each year.

“And the rule of thumb is that every dollar in sales equates to about one pound of debris being saved from the landfill,” Campbell says.

How it Works

Habitat’s environmental efforts don’t stop with its ReStores. The group also encourages its affiliates to use a building technique called “Optimum Value Engineering,” which conserves lumber and reduces waste of other building materials. It’s also increasing efforts to build more homes that meet ENERGY STAR standards.

“Helping the environment is becoming more important to all kinds of people—and when they see what we’re doing in that area, it encourages them to get involved with us at the same time,” Campbell says.

Next time you’ve got a home improvement project in the works, support Habitat for Humanity’s work while reducing waste and saving money by shopping at the nearest ReStore. The inventory does vary, but you may very well find the sink, countertop or refrigerator you need for much less than you’d pay at a retail location.

If your renovation leaves you with any surplus material or appliances in good working order, be sure to return the favor by donating them. If construction isn’t in your near future, consider volunteering and check your local affiliate for volunteer positions at your nearest ReStore.

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