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Commentary by Cindy Ross
We Americans value everything by our time — and many decide to toss, replace and buy new instead of reusing because it is quick. But perhaps we should consider recycling, repairing and repurposing. We can get a lesson on the value of this approach from some Lancaster, Pa., entrepreneurs who have made a living out of turning trash to treasure.
You won’t find any stamp that says “Made in China” on the wooden furniture sold in Lancaster’s Tellus360 store. What you will find is a fascinating story about the “former life” of the lumber contained in the products. Tellus’ small team of woodworkers creates furniture, kitchens, flooring and lighting from wood that was salvaged and saved from landfills. These beautiful products contain lumber that was once pilings in the Boston Harbor, part of a high school in Massachusetts, a tobacco factory in Virginia, or a grain mill in Maryland. Wine racks are made of wood from a local house that burned; balance boards come from a mushroom farm, and scraps are made into one-of-a-kind electric guitars!
Tellus was a Roman earth goddess concerned with the productivity of the earth; “360” is cycling back to a simpler way of life. Owner Joe Devoy got the idea to salvage old wood from construction projects and repurpose and reuse it to create items of use and beauty. Some of the recycled wood is purchased from demolition companies; some comes from his second business, ARA Construction, which de-constructs buildings.
In the Glen Mill’s, PA, Whole Foods there is beautiful restaurant furniture that was built from a barn in the Poconos. In a Staples store on New York’ 5th Ave., one of the most prominent streets in the world, there’s a wooden staircase made from repurposed wood. There are educational plaques alongside the woodworks telling the story of the wood’s second life and the importance of recycling.
Besides handmade wooden products, the store carries jewelry made from recycled flip flops, sneakers, and skateboards, 100% Fair Trade goods, and other items. Profits from certain items go to a foundation in Nepal for which Tellus360 is building a school.
Devoy believe there is a better way to use our natural materials. “Trashed” wood can have new life, new hope. Tellus360 invites schools in for tours where they tell the repurposing wood story and educate the next generation about living sustainably.
The recycling leaders continue in Lancaster with Fresco Green. Rick Frescatore has a compact downtown store called Fresco Eco-Lifestyle Store where customers bring their containers to the Refill Station and fill up on lotion, dishwashing liquid, soap, shampoo and other items. One can buy stylish computer bags and belts made from recycled truck inner tubes, drinking glasses cut from beer bottles, and natural beauty products made by a local woman.
Rick’s Fresco Green Building Supply Store outside of town features recycled building products. There’s a company making insulation out of shredded denim jeans that has the same R value as fiberglass; cork flooring made from recycled wine bottle corks; counter tops made from ground up recycled porcelain (tubs/sinks, etc.), sheeting made from bamboo, wall surfaces made from clay with zero toxins, countertops made from recycled glass and concrete, natural pigment paints and stains, etc. Incorporating these products into a building project not only graces one’s home with beauty — it keeps materials out of the landfill -- and it feels good to use them.
Rick conducts workshops and tours for homeowners and professionals, as well as fields trips for students wanting to learn about recycling and the “Green” movement. He even provides a training facility for designers and builders.
The store Building Character, shelters 35 retailers under one monstrous 10,000 square foot roof. Most of the independently owned “shop” keepers specialize in vintage, recycled or handmade items. Marty Hulse began the store as an outlet for architectural salvage; the store has expanded to include three warehouses and a front show room. Sparkling cut glass birdfeeders made from antique candy dishes, jewelry out of Scrabble tiles, doors and windows and turnings to complete every creative building need as well as used furniture and three large used clothing shops, make browsing here another feel-good shopping experience.
It is not just about making money for these Lancaster shop owners. It is about doing the right thing for the planet, for the trees, for our conscience. So when you are eye that pile of stuff headed for the dump, give it another look. Can some be repurposed or reused? Or, perhaps there is a creative entrepreneur in your town who turns trash into treasure that you can support.
Cindy Ross writes from Pennsylvania. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.