Reused jars holding tools and crafting materials

Do you have a craft stash at your home? In your collection of crafting supplies, do you have partially used paints that you know you’ll never use again or a partial packet of buttons? Maybe you have irregular pieces of fabric, foam, and felt. Or there’s a third of a skein of yarn that just won’t match anything, half a sheet of stickers for a very specific project, crayon stubs, worn-out paintbrushes, outdated cake toppers, weirdly shaped cookie cutters, or any other leftover materials from your crafting projects. What can you do with these resources? They are certainly usable but you never seem to find a use for them in your new creations.

Enter creative reuse centers.

What Is a Creative Reuse Center?

A creative reuse center is a craft thrift store and so much more. It’s a business or nonprofit organization that collects usable materials, leftovers, or surplus creative supplies and redistributes them to the community for reuse. These organizations accept donations from individuals as well as manufacturers, industry partners, and businesses. Donations can be in the form of leftover craft supplies such as your craft stash. They may also include cabinet or flooring samples from a home renovation company or the end of a roll of vinyl from a sign manufacturer.

Each center makes decisions differently and has different donors and donations rules, but the ethos is consistent: They help people see the potential in useable waste as art. The creative possibilities of cast-off materials are limited only by the imagination of the artist. Creative reuse is all about upcycling and repurposing: elevating and reusing an unwanted material or item into something entirely new with purposeful value.

Frequently, creative reuse centers hold classes, workshops, or programs to help people get their creative juices flowing and make something new out of the discarded materials they collect.

Interior of creative reuse center
Upcycle Parts Shop, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: Elizabeth Sturm

Benefiting the Planet

Creative reuse centers are a handy resource for zero-waste homes, a place where you can donate unwanted materials and find inexpensive and eco-friendly craft supplies. Making use of partially used materials reduces the resources needed to make brand-new art supplies. And reusing materials no longer needed for their original purpose extends their usable life.

These centers demonstrate resourcefulness by showcasing alternatives to single-use packaging and bring value to unused leftovers and partially used materials. Their art is frequently used in case studies and showcased throughout the community, serving as practical demonstrations for educators, sustainability partners, and solid waste districts.

Creative reuse centers help greatly reduce landfill waste. Upcycle Parts Shop in Cleveland, Ohio, is a petite model of a creative reuse center with less than 2,000 square feet and is housed in a storefront rather than a warehouse as are many other creative reuse centers. The center reports that their organization alone diverted 37 tons or 74,000 pounds of materials from landfills over seven years (that’s the same weight as almost four Tyrannosaurus Rex, by the way).

Creative Reuse Center Models

Some creative reuse centers offer materials for free to educators or members. Some are open to the public in a traditional retail model. And some are a hybrid of both. A commonality across all centers is that materials are lower in cost than buying new art supplies.

Some centers, such as Material for the Arts in New York City, are funded by their municipalities. Indigo Hippo in Cincinnati, Ohio, allows customers to pay what they choose or can afford. SCRAP Creative Reuse uses a franchise model with locations in Portland, Ann Arbor, Baltimore, and Richmond, Virginia. Many centers are nonprofits and set their own prices. Others are for-profit ventures.

Interior of creative reuse center
Upcycle Parts Shop, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: Elizabeth Sturm

Benefiting Communities

Creative reuse centers often become gathering points in a community. They offer the public more than a place to obtain inexpensive art supplies — they’re a place to learn, discover, and create.

Programming and open crafting hours help community members learn how to create art out of unexpected materials. And browsing through the secondhand art supplies — where you never know what you might find — often leads to inspiration. By showcasing that art can be made from materials all around us, these centers reduce barriers to art supplies, making art more accessible to everyone.

Some Creative Reuse Centers in the US

You can find creative reuse centers all across the United States. Here are just a few. This list is not exhaustive and new centers are opening all the time. We encourage you to search for a creative reuse center in your region.

Now that you know how easy it is to share your leftover supplies, be sure not to toss out what others could reuse. And if there isn’t one near you, think about organizing a reuse center in your community. It’s an idea that is getting started in crafting but might work with any material that is currently being wasted.

By Maureen Wise

Maureen Wise is a freelance writer for a number of green-leaning companies. She also works in the higher education sustainability and previously in watershed restoration. Wise serves on the board of two environmental nonprofits, is a solar owner, and is a certified master recycler. Learn more at maureenwise.com.