Creative Reuse: A Dynamic Solution

Last Updated:
Fri, 2013-05-10 10:17

I’m a big fan of multi-tasking. I like any method, tool, or solution that allows me to accomplish more than one thing at a time, without a downside. It’s one of the aspects of sustainability and conservation that appeals to me most - be healthier, save money, and protect the planet, all at the same time.

Creative reuse is one of my favorite sustainability initiatives. It takes reuse and recycling beyond the simple idea of diverting waste from a landfill and promotes artistic expression, environmental awareness, creativity, and community engagement.

What is Creative Reuse?

Creative reuse is defined by Wikipedia as “the process of taking used or recycled materials and turning them into creative pieces of art, home decoration, or other useful items.” But, in fact, this definition does not begin to scratch the surface of what creative reuse organizations are accomplishing.

Beyond the Typical Thrift Store

East Bay Depot logoThe East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, a non-profit organization in Oakland, CA, is one example of a creative reuse program that is contributing to the community while doing its part to reduce waste. The Depot’s retail facility contains 4500 square feet of recycled, reusable materials suitable for art, education, and household use. But, in addition to being an art-inspired thrift store, it’s also a charity, an educational facility, a recycling center, and a community resource all in one – the ultimate in multi-tasking!

Supporting Arts Education and Environmental Awareness

teacher resources at East Bay DepotThe East Bay Depot serves as a resource for teachers restricted by budget cuts who want to bring art and environmental education into their classrooms. The Green Educator Program is free for teachers to join, and membership includes a 10% educator discount on supplies, assistance with reuse projects and lesson planning, and access to countless resources and events. The Depot offers hands-on environmental art education programs available to both the general community and in public schools to spark creativity and environmental awareness.

Serving Those In Need

More than 20 non-profit organizations benefit from the Depot’s donations. According to Executive Director Linda Levitsky, the Depot and its services have had a remarkably positive impact on the community, serving artists, teachers, students, the general public, and those in need. “We serve a wide range of folks,” Levitsky says. “We donate about 125 tons of materials to non-profit organizations. We have a project with the farm workers in Stockton and provide them necessities such as boots, jeans, jacket, sleeping bags, and camping gear.”

A Growing Mission

When asked how the creative reuse mission has evolved since the founding of the Depot some 30 years ago, Levitsky explained that when the Depot first began, it exclusively served teachers, supplying them with low cost materials. “The idea was that environmental education would spring from the hands-on projects created with reused materials,” Levitsky says. Educational outreach has taken off over the years to include special community events and public school programs that bring environmentally conscious art lessons to those who might not otherwise have access.

The artist community and the general public are served to a greater degree, particularly through the growth of the retail component and other collaborative community service projects.

In cooperation with the Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority, the Depot designed a program to facilitate an annual Reuse Day. On a specific day each year, residents place reusable items at the curb to be picked up and sorted for distribution to charities. The program began with one truck, and when its success became evident, the solid waste authority commissioned a firm to study the program and its potential for growth. With the cooperation of the Depot and several partners, Reuse Day now serves residents in five cities.


Creative reuse centers are making a difference throughout our country. These dynamic organizations are supporting art education, serving the community, increasing environmental awareness, reducing landfill waste, and creating green jobs. Before you throw anything away, and before you start your next project, check out the creative reuse facilities in your area. The inspiration may surprise you.

By Amy Malloy

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