First of a series of posts . . .

. . . about the reclaimed materials business.

Too Much Stuff

I’ve been thinking of writing about various parts of the business of acquiring and selling building materials. I’ve been working in this industry since 2007, have been running a store for most of that time, have worked on deconstruction and salvage teams and have discussed and analyzed all its nooks and crannies with my colleagues at great length.

My first topic is suggested by recent events, namely the shutdown of Buffalo ReUse in late November 2022. We (ReUse Action) swooped in when they lost their lease, offering to clean out their building in exchange for control of the non-profit organization. They accepted our offer, and we’re in the midst of the cleanout.

The disposition of the materials at the Buffalo ReUse store is a huge job. We’ve hardly begun the removal to the landfill, but I expect us to fill and send away 15-20 dumpsters before we’re through. About 90% of the materials at the store is worthless and will have to be landfilled; the rest we’re either bringing to our store or selling cheap/giving away to the public.

I could write about this episode for hours, but the specific point I feel compelled to write about is the recent common reaction among supporters of both Buffalo ReUse and ReUse Action – “Oh, how sad! All that good material going to the landfill!”, with a subtext of “We thought you were a green organization, and here you are throwing away good material!”

Too Much Worthless Stuff

Let me back up a little. I said “about 90% of the [Buffalo ReUse] materials at the store is worthless”.

What do I mean by “worthless”? That a whole building full of carefully saved material has no value? Yes, but let me expand on that.

I refer to our reclaimed material operation as a business. When we started and ran Buffalo ReUse, as a non-profit, it was a business.

Businesses, in this society, need to make a profit, or, put another way, have a margin sufficient to remain in operation. So worthless means something that won’t make money for the business. This is because it can’t be sold, because nobody wants to buy it.

So why is it worthless, and how did we end up with a building full of worthless material?

For years, customers and visitors to our store have said to me “It must be really cool to work with all this wonderful material!” I try to be polite and agree, but I’ve been known to say “It was really cool for about six months, then it was more like “Oh no, more material in the unending flood of stuff!'”

Once things get rolling, and people know you want their unwanted things (because you remind them without ceasing) it truly becomes an unending flood.

So, you learn to say no, and as time goes on and the pile of material gets bigger, you say no to more things, things you used to take.

I’d say it’s Rule Number One, because if you aren’t picky about what you take, you soon have a real problem. Too much material, and particularly too much unwanted material (people don’t buy it) becomes a storage and disposal problem.

I’ll continue in my next post. This is about five hundred words. Can you tell I could talk about this for hours?

Part Two is here.

It's a big mess.
It’s a big mess.