Today’s Reuse Centers

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Photo by Bernard Hermant

We begin by discussing one of the 3Rs of sustainability: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Alliteration aside, the Rs are hierarchically ordered according to their potential environmental impact. The first R and best practice is to Reduce consumption. After all, if a product isn’t used in the first place, then no resources are expended in making it and zero waste is produced. The next best option is to Reuse. Why would Reuse be preferable to Recycling, you ask? Recycling is good, yet it requires the consumption of additional resources (energy, water, etc.) during the recycling process. Whether something is reused for its original (conventional reuse) or new use (creative reuse or repurposing), the majority of items that pass through our hands can be reused in some way.

Reuse has been practiced throughout history. In archeology, the term spolia refers to the reuse of stone or sculptural elements from older buildings in newer ones (typically the reuse of Roman elements in Christian and medieval structures). In the nineteenth century, people practiced reuse to deal with a scarcity of manufactured goods and resources: flour sacks were sewn into clothes, fabric scraps were pieced together into quilts and corn cobs were fashioned into pipes. These days Reuse is practiced less often out of necessity and more as a way of dealing with all the “stuff” we have.

In the Baltimore area, we are fortunate to have a diverse selection of Reuse centers nearby. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, Reuse centers are a bit like thrift stores, but better, because they have reconceived and broadened the concept of what’s of value and hence reusable. While a thrift store typically resells used clothing, appliances, and other consumer products, a Reuse center specializes in sourcing normally discarded items (including disassembled or reclaimed materials) that can either be reused or creatively repurposed and thus given a new life. The ones in our area offer an array of architectural salvage, construction materials and even craft supplies.

Here are some fantastic Reuse Centers in and around Baltimore:

Housewerks Salvage (1415 Bayard Street Baltimore MD 21230): Housewerks was the first architectural salvage retailer we ever visited. If you’re in the market for a unique piece of iconic history, this should be your first stop in Baltimore. The business is located in the former headquarters of the Chesapeake Gas Company of Baltimore City, and as Baltimore was one of the first American cities to light public areas at night, the building has its own wonderful story to tell (read more here ). At Housewerks you can find high-quality wrought iron, durable enough to have survived the great fire of 1904, 100-year-old tiles salvaged from buildings in Hungary, and even a vat rescued from an early Hershey’s chocolate factory.

Second Chance Inc. (1700 Ridgely St, Baltimore, MD 21230): If you are looking for reusable building materials, Second Chance has over 200,000 square feet of retail space housing one of the largest inventories of salvaged building materials in the Baltimore area. You can easily find everything you’d need to renovate or build a house, right there. They carry a wide variety of reclaimed dimensional lumber, generally of higher quality and at a lower price than what you’d find at a typical, retail hardware store. And their inventory doesn’t just stop at building materials. Second Chance also has modern and vintage furniture, appliances, paintings, sculptures, and just about everything you would need to open your own upscale gelato shop. Learn more about their mission here.

SCRAP B-More (913 W Barre St, Baltimore, MD 21230) Scrap B-More is the third element in Baltimore’s Pigtown tryptic of reuse and repurpose. Part of the Scrap USA Network, Scrape B-More is a non-profit organization, with a mission to “inspire creative reuse and environmentally sustainable behavior by providing educational programs and affordable materials to the community”. In addition to lightly-used and leftover traditional art and craft supplies (items such as paints, fabric, and yarn), Scrape B-More also accepts a variety of donated industrial and post consumer scrap materials, all ready for some creative upcycling.

The Loading Dock (2 N Kresson St, Baltimore, MD 21224): Established in 1984, The Loading Dock is the nations first nonprofit Reuse Center. It offers a mix of salvage and unused building materials. They also carry a few vintage and modern appliances, tools, lighting, hardware, and pretty much anything you would find at a home improvement center. This is an excellent place to browse and be inspired, or to just pick up some reclaimed lumber for your next building project. We bought several terracotta pipes here, which I plan to make into housing for Mason bees and the other solitary bee species that frequent our garden.

Habitat for Humanity Restore (1013 Beards Hill Rd, Aberdeen, MD 21001): Restores can be found all over the country. They are independently owned and operated by local Habitat for Humanity organizations, so you can expect some variation in what each store has to offer. The Restore in Aberdeen offers a range of quality unused and remnant construction materials, furniture, and other Post-Consumer items at very low prices. We managed to find some high-end, Edison reproduction light bulbs here- for $2 apiece!

Tool Belt Consignments (1805 Harford Rd, Fallston, MD 21047): This is a great place to pick up quality tools at a fraction of the retail price. And not just run-of-the-mill home improvement tools, but also professional and antique tools. On top of that, the Tool Belt stocks leftover hardware and building materials that are priced to go. On a recent visit we bought a couple of new fence post end caps for one dollar, that I used as roofing for birdhouses.

Hodges Hardware (1517 S Philadelphia Blvd, Aberdeen, MD 21001): We sometimes go here just to visit the feral cats that call this place home. At Hodges there are numerous, ever-growing mountains of reusable treasure. Sometimes you can barely squeeze through the isles. At other times, they are completely blocked. Dust, rust and soot are par for the course, so it’s a good idea to bring work gloves. Hodges Hardware has character. Or rather, it’s owned by a couple of characters. Almost nothing I find in here has a price tag, so one of the owners is necessarily called out when it comes time to ring me up. They tolerate my digging around because they know I appreciate the hard work that went into collecting all this stuff, and because I always buy something. If you mind your Ps and Qs, you can get some great deals. They seem to purchase entire inventories from old businesses that have been boarded up, sometimes for many years. I’ve found all sorts of vintage hardware there, some new in the box dating all the way back to the 1920s.

So around Baltimore and around the country, today’s Reuse centers offer affordable retail options to communities, while also reducing landfill waste. In addition to the aforementioned places, the County puts out a guide of reuse organizations and the types of donated items they accept (Baltimore County Reuse Directory). In my view, the only priority not represented would be a way to reuse more of the food packaging we currently discard- all I want for a ‘greener’ New Year is- a zero waste grocery store!