(Tompkins Weekly, 8-24-22, by Robin Elliott and Diane Cohen)
The first-ever New York State Reuse Summit was held in Ithaca at Cinemapolis on June 16. The event brought together over 160 participants from 64 New York communities and six states to learn more about the transformative economic, environmental and social impacts reuse can have.
This summit was a collaboration between Syracuse University’s Center for Sustainable Community Solutions (CSCS), Finger Lakes ReUse, the New York State Center for Sustainable Materials Management (CSMM), the Susan Christopherson Center for Community Planning, and the New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse and Recycling (NYSAR3). CSCS, PaintCare, and the Tompkins County Recycling and Materials Management Department sponsored the event. Inspiring presentations, stories and innovative ideas were shared.
Conference presentations showcased multiple models of reuse currently active in the state, including Big ReUse in New York City, the new independent Cortland ReUse Center and the deconstruction efforts (building material reuse) of CR0WD, ReUse, the Circular Construction Lab at Cornell University and Significant Elements of Historic Ithaca.
Each of these efforts is unique in its scope and style, but all share a core commitment to waste diversion through reuse, which both extends the lifetime of existing materials and reduces demand for the production of new ones.
Finger Lakes ReUse (FLR) was honored to participate in and host the event. Personal stories from Finger Lakes ReUse staff, volunteers and community partners added important context to what reuse as an action can provide — opportunities and community for the individuals who participate.
You can watch recordings of the NYS ReUse Summit presentations on the NYSAR3 website here: nysar3.org/page/reuse-summit-presentations-251.html.
Finger Lakes ReUse’s Community ReUse Center (CRC) model has been gaining increasing recognition as a uniquely adaptive business that strengthens the community while keeping good items out of the waste stream.
Thrift and reuse are a proven strong business model already existing in multiple forms, including for-profits, nonprofits, charity organizations, upcycling, reselling and repair. What sets the CRC model apart is a) the waste-diversion goal at its core, b) the focus on self-empowerment and human development, health and well-being including in its own workforce and c) the collaboration with partners to adapt offerings to build community health.
The process of reuse converts unwanted materials into jobs, resources and community programming and offers a viable business model with exponential benefits. Diverting valuable materials from landfills and incinerators not only provides obvious environmental benefits and cost avoidance in tipping fee; it also results in revenue from the sale of materials and savings for consumers.
For every ton of material recovered, there is an estimated $2,000 to 3,000 in revenue generated at FLR, compared to the Tompkins County rate of $96 per ton for tipping at the transfer station (recycletompkins.org/trash/permits-and-fees/).
The community impacts of reuse are perhaps more profound. While the concept of reuse is a simple one, in action, it is quite complex, with an array of benefits in terms of creative engagement and workforcase development. Community ReUse Centers engage everyone, including disenfranchised and vulnerable people, with a respectful and inclusive work environment, affordable goods and free materials to those in need.
FLR offers paid job skills training opportunities to people who need it most, including formerly incarcerated individuals and those with physical and intellectual disabilities. Since 2016, FLR has been working closely with human service agencies to provide materials to local households in need, aiding 330 households in 2021 alone.
Reducing the need for the production of new materials also directly protects human health on a global scale, as material production produces toxic chemical exposure, groundwater contamination and greenhouse gas emissions.
Material reuse is an under-recognized method for greenhouse gas emission reduction, especially when considering building materials. More infrastructure is necessary to be able to absorb, process, repair and provide reusable goods in Tompkins County and everywhere else.
The establishment of more reuse warehouses and collection points to facilitate this, or hubs and exchanges, is a critical step in establishing a regional reuse system that will strengthen local economies, reduce waste and create meaningful and engaging work opportunities.
Finger Lakes ReUse started with a meeting of community members, hosted by Tompkins County, and a $700 pooled investment by our three founding board members, followed by a $20,000 planning grant from Tompkins County. Those early planning efforts set out the path for FLR to become the $3 million organization it is today, with 80 living-wage employees.
Finger Lakes ReUse has a mission to enhance community, economy and environment through reuse, including sharing of resources and technical assistance for neighboring communities to develop their own reuse efforts. FLR developed an online ReUse Business Planning Template in 2015 for other communities to use, funded by the NYS Pollution Prevention Institute and developed in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.
Since the successful NYS Reuse Summit event, FLR has begun receiving increased interest in this template and direct consultation from communities looking to start their own Community ReUse Center. Finger Lakes ReUse is grateful to funders for supporting this important work as the organization continues to demonstrate the transformative impacts and opportunities that reuse offers.
Robin Elliott is the associate director, and Diane Cohen is the executive director, of Finger Lakes ReUse. Learn more at ithacareuse.org.
If you liked this article, you may want to check out our complete archives of SOS Tompkins Weekly articles