All for Reuse, and Reuse for All!

Welcome back to our Summer of Reuse series!  This month we are delighted to highlight two very impressive reuse organizations in MA.  Both are former recipients of MassDEP Waste Reduction grants, and each work to reduce waste by rescuing materials that would otherwise be thrown away and making them available for purchase at a lower price point.  We hope you’ll enjoy hearing their stories as much as we did!   

Scrabble Board: Reuse

The Great Exchange

If you’ve ever wondered about the fate of perfectly usable desks, chairs and supplies after an office renovation or a move to a new space, you’re not alone.  Meet Dona Neely, the brains and brawn behind the The Great Exchange, a nonprofit that captures cast-offs from companies and manufacturing operations and gets them into the hands of schools and nonprofits who need them.

Recycled office furniture

In 2007, Ms. Neely, the Executive Director of the Devens Eco Efficiency Center, decided to do something about the perfectly good stuff she saw going into trash dumpsters in the Devens business community. 

Motivated to stop the waste, she gathered 20 Devens-based businesses, schools, and non-profits to talk about it.  Together, they found ways to make materials that were no longer needed (but otherwise had a lot of life) available to other organizations who could use them.  The event was a huge success, demonstrating that there WAS a way to prevent unnecessary waste on a large scale – she just needed to get the ball rolling and the supply would find the demand.

Dona Neely and Amanda Lansing in front of the TGE building

Dona Neely and Amanda Lansing in front of the TGE building. Source

"You Never Know What You'll Find..."

The Great Exchange (TGE), a discount warehouse chockful of surprises and bargains, was born.  About shopping at TGE, Ms. Neely likes to say, “You have to walk around at least three times to ensure that you see it all!”  While some items are provided on a regular basis from local businesses (like packing materials that can be reused for shipments), their incoming inventory is always different. Sometimes they get creative materials, other times they get furniture and fixtures. It’s a mixed bag, but often a good one. 

Some of the many items sold at TGE Examples of items sold at TGE:
  • Classroom resources
  • Creative materials
  • Health and safety products
  • Janitorial and kitchen items
  • Office supplies and furniture
  • Mailing and shipping needs
  • Storage containers
  • And so much more!

And the reasonable prices definitely don’t hurt.  At 50% of retail value on average, the ever-changing inventory attracts shoppers who like a good deal.  Ms. Neely says, “if shoppers don’t find exactly what they were looking for,…they will often still leave with things that were not on their list, knowing the original item will show up in a week or two.” 

Since 2007, TGE has expanded beyond expectations. They now have two shopping venues in Devens and offer over 700 types of new and like-new items. Their inventory comes from manufacturers, retail stores and other institutions that are closing, moving, or changing their operation. Their change = our win!

Serving and Supporting the Community 🙌

Ms. Neely says the priority of TGE is to help institutions invest more in the delivery of their programs and services by providing them access to office supplies, furniture, and fixtures at significant savings.  The program is not open to the public, but instead serves community groups, daycare facilities, schools, libraries, municipal departments, nonprofits, and businesses from Massachusetts and surrounding states. TGE is especially motivated to support teachers by providing discounted materials they can use to make learning fun.

The Great Exchange donation vanThis van, used to haul donations, was purchased with funds from MassDEP’s Waste Reduction grant.

"Take-Make-Waste" is Not in Their Vocabulary

The abiding mission of TGE is to help facilitate a transition from the take – make – waste linear economy to a more efficient circular economy.  They do so by keeping resources in use and providing opportunities to reuse, repurpose, regenerate them in new and innovative ways.  Ms. Neely likes to say that they regularly collect items for reuse from donors who understand the economic, social, and environmental benefits of waste prevention, and to that we say, bravo!  Recycle Smart salutes The Great Exchange and all of their donors and patrons for participating in the circular economy. Want to learn more about The Great Exchange? Follow them on Facebook, check out their blog, or even better – visit in person!  

Spotlight on Reuse: Boston Building Resources

Photo: Boston Building Resources (BBR)
From brand new windows and doors, to gently used lighting fixtures and so much more, Boston Building Resources (BBR) Reuse Center is saving building materials from the trash and getting it into the hands of families who need them.
Building materials for reuse Homeowners, contractors, retailers, and manufacturers are all on the list of donors at BBR, supplying building materials that are either unused, overstocked, or no longer in style from project sites. Deb Beatty Mel and the team at BBR prepare the donations to be sold to anyone doing home improvements. Customers range from local residents to travelers from out-of-state, who can all check the BBR website for available building materials or visit the warehouse at Roxbury Crossing in Boston.
Successful kitchen makeover with BBR Looking for inspiration for your next project?  Check out BBR’s Stories video blog.  Real clients give tours of their homes and show how they used materials purchased at BBR!

In order to meet their mission to “inspire, educate, and empower homeowners to increase the efficiency and value of their homes,” BBR welcomes all shoppers, but offers special pricing to low-income families, allowing necessary work to be done on a tight budget. For the DIY crowd, the Reuse Center holds skill-building workshops to further reduce the costs of installation.

Assorted reusable building materials
In 2021, BBR finished a MassDEP grant-funded project to increase the size of their building and add solar panels. The project allowed them to reduce their carbon footprint while housing more materials to meet demand. “You’ve got to see the Reuse Center to fully appreciate all the treasures you can find,” said Deb. So when thinking about your next DIY, think “Reuse!” and visit Boston Building Resources to help keep good material out of the trash.

📚 What We're Reading

‘Til next time, The Recycle Smart Team at MassDEP