The stars of salvage

It’s been 15 years since the ReUse Center opened in South Minneapolis. Now it collects hundreds of tons of building materials a year that would have been buried in a landfill, but instead provide a cheap and viable option for those remodeling their home.

Agatha Vaaler, the Center’s interim operations manager, spoke with the Southwest Journal about how do-it-yourselfers can use the ReUse Center. She also gave some background about how a neighborhood group created positive change in their community. 

For those unfamiliar with the ReUse Center, can you give a general overview?

The ReUse Center is a nonprofit with a mission of keeping reusable building materials out of landfills. We run two stores — one in Maplewood and one in Minneapolis — where we sell salvaged building materials. Most of the things we have are doors, windows, cabinets, plumbing, lumber, millwork, flooring, hardware, lighting and appliances. We also have lumber products that range from flooring and paneling and millwork. 

Our goal is to keep tons of building materials out of landfills and re-route it back into new building projects. 

For those doing their own remodeling project, let’s say for example, their kitchen cabinets, how would they use the ReUse Center?

You could first of all see if your cabinets could be donated. What you would want to do in that case is call ahead. The store associates would ask you about the condition of your item, and then they would give you a time to bring it in and then you could get a tax deduction, which is pretty nice, for the estimated value of the item that you’re donating. So instead of land filling what you’re tearing out, you’re putting it back into circulation. (For a full list of acceptable items, go to thereusecenter.com.)

And secondly, you could shop our stores for a new set of cabinetry or kitchen, or whatever. What’s cool about the ReUse Center is you can find some really high quality salvaged stuff. A lot of things we carry are architecturally valuable. They’re old growth wood in some places. If your home’s a 1940s-era home, you’re more likely to find something that integrates well into that building style and vintage at our stores then if you went to Home Depot or Menard’s. 

How much have the ReUse centers collected that would have otherwise been landfilled?

We estimate that through our ReUse centers and our deconstruction service we divert about 500 tons of reusable building materials out of landfills per year. 

What would you suggest for people who are looking for a specific item?

I think it’s important to remember that we’re like a glorified salvage yard. It’s not like a Home Depot or a Menard’s where you’re going to have something very specific in mind and know that you’ll find it. You have to have some flexibility and some willingness to shop and keep in touch with a constantly fluctuating inventory. Generally, you can know you’ll find kitchen, plumbing, flooring, millwork, that sort of thing, but in terms of what specifically you will find you have to check in. You can call ahead. You can just visit, which is a good way. The other way is to get on our e-list, which is awesome. Once a week we have a photo e-list that gets sent out to about 5,400 people. It gives information and highlights on inventory and any promotions we might have. 

How do you get on the e-list?

Go to our website, thereusecenter.com, and click on “membership” and there is a form to fill out. You can also sign up in the stores. 

What’s the history of how the ReUse Center got started?

The Green Institute is the parent organization of the ReUse Center. The Green Institute runs a number of programs. The ReUse Center is its oldest. The Green Institute and the ReUse Center were founded out of an environmental justice movement in South Minneapolis, in the Phillips neighborhood. There was a proposal for a high-volume garbage transfer station here on this site. Phillips neighborhood activists got together and they essentially petitioned for it not to be constructed. They spent six years doing that and they were able to push for it to be completely withdrawn as a proposal from (Hennepin) County. They were so successful, and they wanted to do something proactive rather than just ending the conflict there. So their idea was something that turned on its head the whole notion of solid waste and needing to add capacity to add solid waste just to landfill it. So their notion was, 30 to 50 percent of landfill waste is construction waste, a lot of that is reusable, a lot that is really high quality, a lot of it is old growth, a lot of it could be re-routed to some of these local building projects. Let’s be a player and create a market for these projects. 

Has the bad economy made the ReUse Center more popular?

Absolutely. It’s kind of counter-cyclical. Two things have played into it. I did a customer sampling survey and about 90 percent of those that shop with us shop for both affordability (about 50 percent cheaper than retail) and uniqueness of the products that they’ll find here. And also I think there has been a surge of interest in green building.

The ReUse Center

2801 21st Ave. S. #190

724-2608

thereusecenter.com