The Highest Form of Recycling

Date: 9 Jun 2022 | posted in: waste - recycling, Waste to Wealth | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

This article appeared in the March 2022 issue of Resource Recycling.

Sit in the parking area of Urban Ore in Berkeley, Calif. and you will see one set of people dropping off (or sometimes selling) old items – and another set of satisfied customers hauling away their bargains.

The scene demonstrates how material reuse through for-profit and nonprofit operations is a mechanism for the redistribution of material wealth. The businesses also have a positive impact on job creation, community development and the environment.

“Reuse is the highest form of recycling because finished products are revived and their productive purpose is extended,” said Dan Knapp, who founded Urban Ore in 1980 and continues to helm the operation.

The last several years have been pivotal for Urban Ore and other retail outlets that focus on reuse of items such as building supplies, appliances, furniture, home goods, computers and more. COVID-19 initially slowed reuse enterprises, but many rebounded dramatically and some rose incredibly quickly into record-revenue territory.

In Berkeley, Urban Ore collected and paid $310,000 in state and sales taxes in 2021, on sales of $3.5 million, the most ever in its 40-year existence.

Other operators around the U.S. have noted similar surges, a trend that is helping to underscore the critical role of the reuse sector, especially at a time when supply chains and other foundations of the economy are uncertain.

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The expansion of living wage reuse jobs with health benefits has primarily benefited intelligent, healthy people who enjoy a mixture of physical and mental work and don’t like working in offices or restaurants.  Some employers have also preferentially hired hard to employ veterans, ex-offenders, school dropouts, and challenged workers.

High quality building materials, appliances, furniture, home goods, computers and more are available for bargain prices benefits low-income residents. Each reuse enterprise builds a vibrant community of donors and shoppers. Once Urban Ore’s facility attracted additional enterprises creating a Reuse Destination for hundred miles around, generating a flow of Reuse Tourists now served by newly located restaurants. Second Chance in Baltimore reports a new phenomenon, Reuse Date Night, as couples explore the thousands of square feet of goods.


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Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman, Ph.D, directs the Waste to Wealth Initiative. He specializes in helping cities and businesses recover increasing amounts of materials from the waste stream and add value to the local economy through new processing and manufacturing facilities. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.