One man’s trash: creative reuse centers help make recycling fabulous

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right? So how do millions of tons of waste end up in landfills every year?

Among other obstacles (like marketing, consumerism, and labyrinthine municipal recycling systems), one likely reason is the stigma reuse has long held in many communities—a feeling that only poor people should need to buy something secondhand and, concurrently, that being poor is shameful.

But thankfully this fallacy is fading and creative recycling is starting to see a new heyday—thanks in part to a continuously unstable economy that encourages frugality, an increased awareness of the environmental mandate to reuse instead of buying new, and some “it’s okay!” role modeling from musicians like Macklemore, publications like MAKE Magazine, and fine artists like Kathleen Miller.

The recycling boom can be seen in the proliferation of initiatives like city composting programs, better e-waste recycling by retailers, and one of my favorites: creative reuse centers.


Savannah Cox made these pretty purses out of scrap fabric. What will you make?
(photo courtesy Fort Lauderdale’s Trash to Treasure Creative Reuse Center)

These stores (often times large open spaces, like former warehouses) sell previously owned, usually donated bulk material that’s perfectly reusable but would otherwise end up getting trashed.

Generally the inventory is made up of crafty materials that appeal to artists, teachers, and parents—balls of yarn, bags of buttons, old coffee table photo books, carpet samples, chalkboards, telephones—the list goes on.

Every creative reuse center operates differently. Check out these all-stars for a general idea and some inspiration:

  • Since its earliest days in the 1970s, Queens, New York’s Materials for the Arts has provided companies and individuals with an easy way to turn over their unneeded supplies free of charge to nonprofit arts organizations and public schools. They also hold events, workshops, and classes about creative reuse.
  • Lancaster Creative Reuse proclaims, “Your box of miscellaneous stuff you no longer use is our Christmas morning.” They offer residents of South Central Pennsylvania “business overstock, scraps, samples and seconds, excess from individual craft closets, art studio cleanouts, and sewing room stashes” at low prices. Plus they have an Open Craft Table, where for $2 per crafter, you can “make as much as you want for as long as you want.”
  • St. Paul, Minnesota’s ArtScraps Reuse Store makes a variety of material available to teachers, parents, artists, scout leaders, and day care providers, and has “an artist available on-site to talk about project ideas.” They also offer creative programs for children and adults.

There are tons more. Art of Recycle maintains a list of creative reuse centers worldwide—including plenty of operations in and around the UK, Australia, Brazil, Canada, and New Zealand.

If you’re decorating your nonprofit’s office, making swag for an upcoming fundraiser, helping the kids in your classroom develop their art skills, or are otherwise in the market for fabulous creative materials, it’s never been easier to get your hands on them for next to nothing—while participating in some top-notch recycling.

So make like Leslie Hall and get to crafting something great!

Are you an artist or educator who’s benefited from the uptick in creative reuse options? Have you started your own creative reuse initiative? Tell us about it in the comments!

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