Intern Editorial - WNP & The Environment

Waste-Not-Products: Upcycling on a Mission

Julien Thurrott is studying Creative Writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She and her shaggy companion, Pluma, interned with the ReSOURCE Development Office during the summer of 2015. Following is her editorial on our ReSOURCE Waste-Not-Products shop and the VT Universal Recycling Law.

ReSOURCE opened its doors in Burlington, Vermont in 1991 to create a space where materials could be reused and human dignity could be renewed. To achieve this goal, ReSOURCE established multiple household goods stores where materials can be reused rather than going to waste in a landfill, developed programs to alleviate poverty in the community, and enhanced job opportunities by creating training programs that offer valuable job skills.

ReSOURCE’s mission is to meet community and individual needs through education and job skill training, environmental stewardship, and economic opportunity. The symbiotic mission proves that when we reduce waste and empower people with education, we increase our human potential in every way and are able to have less waste, and more opportunity. In 2012, the Vermont Legislature passed a Universal Recycling & Composting Law (Act 148) with new environmental requirements, such as banning all recyclable materials from the landfill, that are currently coming into effect around the state.

One program incorporating these goals is the Waste-Not-Products shop, a program of ReSOURCE located in Burlington next to their Building Materials Store on Pine Street. Waste-Not-Products, (WNP), receives offcuts of clean hardwood, plywood, and veneer from Vermont manufacturing companies, such as Copeland Furniture and WallGoldfinger, and uses the raw materials to make cutting boards, lamps, coasters, tables, and the occasional custom piece. Sales of WNP goods contribute to the success of ReSOURCE’s mission. Abby Teel, the Shop Coordinator, explains, how “all of the proceeds go to benefit the community.” Although ReSOURCE items are sold at lower costs to benefit those in need, the stores are open to the public and anyone can shop. So next to the used goods are some of the artistic and functional WNP items for sale.

ReSOURCE Waste-Not-Products also contracts with local businesses, like brewpubs and cider makers, to make cutting boards and flight trays. Some of this production work is done by volunteers and trainees in the shop, giving them plenty of work and learning opportunities. Typically there are few trainees at a time who work with Abby, with another supervisor, or a skilled volunteer while learning the art and business of woodworking. People working with WNP range from students earning industry certifications, adults learning something new so they can support their families, or a variety of mentally and physically disabled persons getting invaluable job experience.

Abby hopes to improve these positions by updating the shop and increasing production. Upgraded tooling can create a safer environment for staff and trainees, while allowing the shop to create a greater number of quality items for sale. “Farmers’ markets always have great stuff” she said, “and I won’t sell something unless I’m confident that it’s the best it can be - so that it will shine through and someone will come and grab a cutting board or a lamp shade.” Thinking of WNP’s future, Abby added, “I’d also like to make smaller pieces like jewelry or toys, because you’re more likely to buy a gift for someone than get something like a cutting board for yourself.”

Waste-Not-Products is always making interesting things with salvaged and upcycled materials but more than that, they provide priceless work experience for individuals. In the summer of 2015, Myles, a trainee, worked in the shop two or three days a week to help Abby make cutting boards as part of a summer work program. Visually impaired, and a student of LEAP (Learn, Earn, And Prosper), he had never been allowed to work with tools before. “Abby gave me a tour the first day, explained how the machines worked, and watched me as I selected my wood pieces, but she didn’t baby me,” Myles said. “She just let me work. Nobody at school would have done that.”

“It’s a friendly place” said Abby, “we’re all here to learn and make some nice stuff. I love making beautiful things that people are proud to have in their homes.” Waste-Not-Products gives her and others the chance to do that, plus, they get to help the environment. ReSOURCE’s Waste-Not-Products shop is one example of a creative way to comply with the new recycling and composting standards by upcycling goods for reuse in the community while also working towards a larger mission. So for everyone - customers, trainees, and environmental activists alike - ReSOURCE and the Waste-Not-Products shop are good to have in our community.