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Transforming Trash to Treasure

Alaska nonprofits divert 'trash' from landfills


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Donors can drop off their goods at either of Goodwill’s attended donation centers in Anchorage.

Goodwill Industries of Alaska

 

One of the most noble goals of three Alaska nonprofits—Habitat for Humanity Anchorage, Anchorage re:MADE, and Goodwill—is to help people get back on their feet by providing access to homes, job training, networking opportunities, and more. What people may not realize, however, is that they are able to fund many of these programs by also helping the environment.

 

Habitat Anchorage ReStore

Habitat for Humanity Anchorage, for example, raises money through Habitat Anchorage ReStore, which opened in 2006. All of the items they carry are donated and then resold at big savings to customers.

“The items that we receive come from small local businesses, large corporations, and people who finish projects and have leftover materials,” says Norman Beasley, general manager of Habitat Anchorage ReStore, adding that donors include Grainger, Carlile, Lowe’s, and Target, as well as hotels, real estate agents, landlords, personal contractors, and homeowners. “Things go full circle here; materials that were once in a high-society home may now be decorating the house of a student.”

ReStore accepts almost any type of donation, though they are best known for the construction materials they carry. “Contractors like us because we get in commercial materials, like scaffolding joists, that they can’t get anywhere else for the same price,” says Beasley. “But we also carry personal items that people can use to dress up areas in their homes, sheds, or garages.”

Habitat for Humanity Anchorage

 ReStore recycles roughly 36 tons of metal each year in addition to other materials, keeping these items out of the landfill.

 

“While our niche is building materials, we do want to open up our offerings to the broader community, so we’re looking at carrying more furniture and home décor,” agrees Erika Shedlarski, development director. “We work with what comes in—we even partnered with a company that gave us shoes at one point.”

While ReStore is great for those looking for a bargain, the shop is even better for the environment. According to Beasley, roughly 36 tons of metal is recycled each year, keeping it out of the landfill. “For example, we accept refrigerators, and if they’re damaged, we give them to a company that recycles Freon and the materials inside the fridge,” he explains. “We probably get ten to fifteen refrigerators a month that we keep from going into the landfill.”

ReStore promotes recycling, repurposing, and reselling and tries to use everything they receive. “I tell my staff to say ‘no’ as a last-ditch effort,” says Beasley. “We have customers who repurpose pallets as tables or wall surfaces and who recycle pipes and metal pieces into yard art or to make machinery. We had a guy make a wrench out of metal he bought from us.”

Habitat for Humanity Anchorage

Through ReStore, contractors and private individuals have access to construction materials at reduced prices.

 

If donated materials are of good quality, ReStore sells them to raise money that goes toward Habitat for Humanity’s mission, which is to build and maintain affordable housing for families in the community. According to Habitat for Humanity Anchorage’s website, the store has raised more than $350,000 toward this goal. Since 1992, Habitat for Humanity has built or rehabbed 104 homes in the Anchorage area alone.

“People think we give homes away, but that’s not true,” says Shedlarski. “Habitat families buy the home and pay affordable monthly payments and also provide up to 600 hours of sweat equity, helping to build their own homes. They need to qualify for the program, which includes having good or repairable credit, an income, and demonstrated need.

Habitat for Humanity Anchorage

In addition to construction materials, ReStore also offers various household goods.

 

“It’s really wonderful to know that we’re helping kids grow up in safe homes,” says Shedlarski of Habitat for Humanity’s multigenerational impact. “Our primary goal is to build hope and homes and to change lives, and Habitat ReStore helps us to do that.”

Habitat ReStore is located at 5023 Cordova Street in Anchorage.

 

Anchorage re:MADE

In 2015, Patti Buist started Anchorage re:MADE with the idea of rescuing items that were going into the landfill. The nonprofit has since partnered with other organizations to direct surplus items to people who need such items the most.

“We rescue items, redirect them to organizations that can use them, sell some items, and upcycle the rest,” says Community Networker Jill Kaniut.

On Tuesdays and Saturdays, volunteers from Anchorage re:MADE travel to the midtown transfer station to collect objects that are headed for the Anchorage Regional Landfill. “People can drop things off, and we’ll take them instead of them getting thrown away,” says Kaniut. “We repurpose a few things onsite, but the majority of things come back to the store.”

In October 2017, Anchorage re:MADE moved into its own building after previously working in borrowed space. The building includes a household section, clothing areas, commercial kitchen and more. The organization also offers classes—available to the public—teaching participants everything from sushi-making basics to furniture painting. “There are a lot of different things going on in one space,” says Kaniut.

Items that are sellable are put on the floor, and many are repurposed by volunteers. “We’re kind of a collaborative artists’ space,” says Kaniut of the all-volunteer organization. “We may paint or add pallets to mirrors or change cabinet doors into shelving. We also do a lot with clothes, making jackets into vests, jeans into shorts or capris, or dresses into shirts.”

The organization receives a lot of casement items, including wood chairs, desks, and file cabinets, as well as clothing. “We always collect shoes because we’re working to fill a Conex to send to Latin America as part of a ReSole program grant,” says Kaniut. “We also have a whole craft room at the store where we resell items for scrapbooking, as well as fabric and skeins of yarn.”

Every third Saturday of the month, the nonprofit hosts re:MADE Market in the parking lot, which brings together vendors, makers, and even those with garage sale-type items to find new homes for their goods. Food is provided in the nonprofit’s café and coffee bar.

While many businesses’ bottom line is to make money, Kaniut says that Anchorage re:MADE’s purpose is three-fold. “We have a financial, environmental, and social bottom line,” she explains. “We want to raise enough money to buy the building and keep the lights on, as well as to offer micro-grants and small business training.

“We also partner with thirty-eight organizations in Anchorage to keep things out of the landfill—last year, we rescued 15,000 pounds of goods,” she continues. “The social piece includes providing a platform for relationships, networking, and mentoring.”

Anchorage re:MADE works with numerous groups, including hospice, which sends volunteers every week, and church youth groups who transport furniture to families in need. Other groups include Alaska Medical Missions, the Municipality of Anchorage, the Salvation Army, Total Reclaim, and the Department of Art at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“In the future, we’re hoping to work with Priceless and Chosen, which works with sex trafficking victims, to teach their clients new life skills,” says Kaniut, adding that the organization is always looking for volunteers and hosts a monthly lunch and overview for those who might want to become involved.

“I think the one thing that people love most about us is that we give their unused goods to organizations that meet tangible needs—that what they give us has a purpose,” says Kaniut. “It’s not just thrown away.”

Anchorage re:MADE is located at 13500 Old Seward Highway in Anchorage.

 

Goodwill Industries of Alaska

Goodwill’s retail store and donation center is located at 3838 Old Seward Highway, Anchorage, across from New Sagaya’s Midtown Market.

Goodwill Industries of Alaska

According to Libby Steffen-Schafermeyer, spokesperson for Goodwill Industries of Alaska, the country’s leading workforce development nonprofit promotes conscious consumerism by encouraging reducing, reusing, and recycling.

“Goodwill is your best bet for reusing things you no longer need or want,” says Steffen-Schafermeyer, adding that Goodwill’s local donation centers stand ready to receive clothes, toys, furniture, electronics, and other items. “By donating to Goodwill, you know those items will be reused by someone else, rather than having them clog up the nation’s landfills.

“When individuals donate gently used merchandise to Goodwill, they also help put people to work,” she adds.

The Anchorage Goodwill, which opened in 2016, accepts clothing, purses, backpacks, shoes and accessories, furniture, toys, sports and camping equipment, dishes, flatware, pots and pans, toasters, blenders, electric skillets, televisions, cameras, and more.

“Revenue raised through the sale of donated goods creates employment opportunities and important social services that can help transform someone’s life, and it’s all done through the simple act of cleaning out a closet,” says Steffen-Schafermeyer.

Every donation at Goodwill Industries provides onsite training, access to computers for job search assistance, employment placement and job training, and other community-based services such as career counseling, financial education, industry-recognized credentials, and résumé preparation all with the goal of helping those facing challenges finding employment. Last year, more than 1,100 people connected with jobs or earned employment through Goodwill’s Job Connections services in Anchorage.

Goodwill’s retail store and donation center is located at 3838 Old Seward Highway, Anchorage (across from New Sagaya’s Midtown Market). People can also drop off donations at Goodwill’s attended donation centers in Anchorage at 11109 Old Seward Highway and 1818 West Northern Lights Boulevard.

 

 

Vanessa Orr is a freelance writer and former editor of the Capital City Weekly in Juneau.

 

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