In 1999, a group of individuals came together to create something new. With waste reduction at the forefront, this collaborative spirit and innovative process would come to embody the heart of what eventually became known as The Resource Depot.
Turning waste reduction into wonder
Located in Palm Beach, Florida, The Resource Depot is a unique sort of place, a warehouse where odds and ends come to be collected and sorted, piled and categorized. The end result of all this effort is waste reduction — and wonderful things being created from all these little pieces of life which would have otherwise been discarded.
I had the opportunity to speak with the executive director of The Resource Depot, Jennifer O’Brien, to get a little more information on her organization and its mission.
Ms. O’Brien tells me that the Resource Depot began as a way to collect and redistribute waste products to teachers and non-profits who could use them for art projects, crafts, and other creative endeavors. The primary goal was waste reduction, she said, but they also strive to be a source of inspiration, too. “We want to become a destination,” she says, “A place to not only get materials but ideas.”
Anything and everything, almost
It seems that so far, they’ve got the materials part of things down pat. The Depot collects excess materials from both businesses and individuals, things like office supplies, containers, wallpaper sample books, clean yogurt containers, bottle caps — anything and everything you could possibly think of. In fact, when detailing the list, O’Brien finds that it’s easier to specify what they don’t accept.
“We don’t take clothing, furniture or electronics” she says, with the exception of lightly used office furniture, and goes on to add that if individuals donate, depot staff prefers that they save up a bunch of one item to drop off at once — dozens of egg cartons for example, or hundreds of maps. Mass quantities of things help when people come shopping for supplies, and make it far easier to categorize and sort, too.
“Our inventory is constantly changing,” O’Brian says, and then excitedly tells me about a recent donation of gorgeous wool by a yarn store going out of business and a medical facility that recently donated huge amounts of unused plastic containers and lids.
It’s easy to see how engaged O’Brien is with her job, and how much she values the task of taking on The Resource Depot’s motto: turning waste into wonder.
A humble beginning
While the depot initially began as a one-stop-supply shop for teachers and non-profits, a move to a more centralized location three years ago increased their warehouse space and allowed them to open their doors to the public — now O’Brien estimates that her customer base is made up of a 50/50 split of business and personal use. In order to purchase from the Depot, customers can purchase a membership or a bin pass.
- A membership ($25 for a teacher, $65 for a family, or $150 for a green business) allows you unlimited access to the Resource Depot and all it’s goodies, for an entire year.
- A one-time bin pass provides you with a small bin to fill for just $5 on one visit – and if you later decide to upgrade to a membership, this $5 gets taken off the cost.
It’s an absolutely incredible deal, and The Resource Depot may just be saving some budgets with their low costs and endless opportunities for creativity.
“Our biggest customer base is teachers,” says Ms. O’Brien, “Yet since we’ve opened the doors at our new location we find that a lot more families coming. And parents are really our first teachers. We really want to encourage them to come here first. Don’t go out and buy new!”
In addition to saving the bottom line of cash-strapped arts programs and family craft sessions, The Resource Depot is also reducing the amount of waste that would be headed to the landfill by putting it to work.
“We’re not only saving you money, ” says O’Brien, “We’re saving the planet, too.”
With just four full-time staff and two part-time, the Depot is always busy, especially since they’ve started venturing out into community events, art showcases and even running a few summer camps called Junk Camps, where kids learn to scavenge and piece together abandoned items to create wild masterpieces. Junk Camp runs from kindergarten to Grade 5 and has offered kids a hands-on way to reduce waste and reimagine material use (i.e. repurpose).
The Depot hasn’t come without its challenges and growing pains, O’Brien talks honestly about the realities of competing for funding with so many other organizations and of sorting public donations from people day in and day out — a constant stream of stuff that can seem endless at times. She’s quick to add that they love getting donations, especially from those who take the time to clean, collect and neatly donate their materials.
The Resource Depot has also begun dipping its toe into the arts scene, inviting Brooklyn artist Alex Branch to come take hold of what Resource Depot staff call their backyard, a clearing in between the warehouse and a nearby railroad track. Branch has constructed a makeshift structure out of recycled and repurposed materials gleaned from the depot, and called it Signal House. The structure will interact with passing trains and provide a collaborative space for people to come together and interact.
Alchemy is never a simple business, but Jennifer O’Brien and her team seem to have it on lockdown. They collect tiles and binders and turn them into art installations. They take castoff items and use them to furnish art classes and family projects. Under the overarching principle of waste reduction, The Resource Depot has demonstrated what enviable creativity lies just behind some creativity, some ingenuity.
You can find out more about how The Resource Depot turns waste into wonder, here. And if you’re lucky enough to live in Palm Beach well, Ms. O’Brien says they’re always looking for volunteers.
Do you have something similar in your area? Has this article inspired you create your own The Resource Depot in your community? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
Images courtesy of The Resource Depot (Instagram)