Well, that was more of a break between posts than I was hoping for. I can blame Buffalo’s preposterous Christmas Blizzard, but the big storm actually gave me plenty of time to write, being housebound with electric, internet and heat.
But then I have to say I’ve never been anything close to a natural born blogger. Just not voluble enough, at least on a web platform. In person I can talk with the best of them (and sometimes the worst of them). I need to remember writing is just another form of talking – if I want to write more, that is.
Anyway, I’m always thinking about the reclaimed materials business, of course, as I earn my living in it. The recent events have reinforced a number of principles I’ve learned over the past fifteen years.
It comes down to a concept common to most businesses dealing with physical objects – it has to FLOW. If it stops at any point there better be a good reason for stopping, usually it’s an indication of a problem. Hardly rocket science, but I find it helpful in beginning to identify problems.
“Has this item or group of items been in one intermediate place for too long?”
“Are these things selling?”
“Does anybody (potential buyers) know about this thing?”
All questions I ask every day.
I’m going to publish this to get something out there, and continue later when I don’t have to get out the door to work.
. . . 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?
Summary: Direct, physical changes to neighborhood streets that reduce the volume and speed of traffic increase personal safety and community quality of life. Some drivers get very angry when they feel their need to move swiftly through city neighborhoods is impeded.
My take: We’re getting a little of this with the speed humps the City’s putting in. It’s just a beginning. GoBike’s bike lane tests are showing us another part of the way forward. Monbiot makes a good point about how the effects of reducing traffic volume and speed are different for bigger and smaller streets. Also, efforts to calm biggers streets can push it through neighborhoods, to bad effect. Neighborhood streets are full of those pesky pedestrians, cyclists, old and disabled folks and little kids, often because they’re avoiding the local stroad.
“There could scarcely be a more reasonable policy. Low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) seek to stop residential streets being used as escape valves for overloaded arterial roads. They replace a privilege exercised by a few – rat-running through local streets – with rights enjoyed by the many: cleaner air, less noise, safe passage for children, cyclists, users of wheelchairs and mobility scooters, stronger communities.”
“The angry drivers insist that LTNs have been imposed on them. Well, whether they agree or not, there are consultations. But no one was consulted about their streets being used as short cuts. No one was consulted about facing a higher risk of asthma and dementia as a result of air pollution, or seeing their communities split by walls of traffic. No one was consulted about losing the places where neighbours could talk and children could play.”
This is a watercolor my mother, Nancy Hayes, painted around 1949. View is to the south/southeast, from a ninth floor window at 23 High Street, Buffalo.
Edited for clarification: I’m guessing 1949, but it could have been anywhere from 1946 to 1954, when my Dad worked at UB for the first time.
The building’s gone. It was between Main and Washington, I think mid-block. South side of High Street.
I’m re-doing the matting. The frame was made by my father, then finished by my mother. She slathered black paint on the oak, then wiped it off, the front side anyway. Then my Dad finished it off, in a fairly crude way that’s held up very well. They were a handy couple and quite a team when it came to making things.
I think the houses in the painting are on Washington Street. Some may still be there, though houses were moved around in that block so it might be hard to tell.
Paco, what do you think of the image that all the artists have of you? You’re practically a god in flamenco.
Well, it’s something I got used to. Because it’s always been like that, ever since I was a child I think. When I was small people praised me and they’d say “oh, the kid, how the kid plays!… the kid …the kid…” So it’s something you get used to and it’s more a pain in the ass, if you pardon my language, than anything else. Well, you enjoy it but the responsibility of being there is huge and every time you make a record you get obsessed and you want to do it better. It’s very nice, I can’t complain, but sometimes the responsibility overcomes the pleasure of doing things, having to do things well can at times cancel out the pleasure of doing them.
. . . to show off materials. The “windows” allow us to use various clear and translucent glasses, the rest of the table could be chestnut, oak or hemlock. Put some lights inside and it will be quite a looker.