The Green Column #16

Keeping it Local Saves Money, Resources and Builds Community

December 9, 2009—Local businesses are cashing in on recycling. Besides saving money, energy and reducing unnecessary waste, their efforts economically strengthen the community. Here are two examples, one urban and one rural.

Straw, Sticks & Bricks is a retail store at 700 O St. in Lincoln, selling green building materials and sustainable lifestyle products. With the poor economy, the business was having difficulty.

After some research and experimentation, owners Josh Shear and Jen Carlson developed a new product: countertops made locally from post-consumer glass. The countertops are made from waste glass bonded with a resin.

Launched last August at Lincoln Green by Design’s LEED in Lincoln event at the Color Court building, the countertops gave the company new life.

At the open house, Will and Robert Scott, owners of WRK and developers of the Color Court building, offered the couple the opportunity to showcase their countertops. Public response was overwhelmingly positive.

“We wouldn’t be here today if the Scott brothers didn’t work with us,” said Shear.

Glass is notoriously difficult to recycle because it’s bulky, doesn’t pack or ship well and is extremely heavy, often costing more to ship to recycling facilities than the material is worth. “Glass,” Shear said, “is a problem everywhere.”

Shear said he can collect 2,000 pounds of glass a week without much effort. For example, most of the windows in commercial buildings that are being replaced go to the landfill.

Shear is hoping that a partnership with EcoStores Nebraska will help in collection and ultimately processing of glass needed for his business.

EcoStores is a retail warehouse at 530 W. P St. devoted to selling second-use building, construction and remodeling material. Organized under the umbrella of the nonprofit Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities, EcoStores also keeps usable items out of the landfill.

Currently, EcoStores is accepting glass from the public and contributing broken windows or unsellable product to Shear’s business.

A Straw Sticks & Bricks post-consumer glass countertop for a typical kitchen contains about 700 pounds of glass, each square foot 13 pounds. In order to collect and crush enough glass for his product, Shear had to become a glass processor since there aren’t any in Lincoln.

As demand for his product grows, especially with architectural firms interested in the countertops for green building projects, Shear will need help with glass processing. His long-term goal is that EcoStores will have its own crusher on site.

This will make transport to Straw Sticks & Bricks easier. A 55-gallon drum of bottles weighs 75 pounds. Crushed, the glass still weighs 75 pounds but fits in a 5-gallon bucket.

Shear says partnerships with EcoStores and other organizations such as The Environmental Trust and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality help define the company.

Nearly all of Straw, Sticks & Bricks’ sales are within 100 miles. Almost all of the money stays here in the community. Other green products use recycled glass from New York or California, which is good for those communities but doesn’t help locally.

“The partnerships, resources and market are all here locally. Working together makes it happen,” Shear said.

Green opportunities aren’t limited to the city.

Several years ago, Runza Restaurants chairman Don Everett and his manager Ken Gray created an experimental farm on Everett’s property in Martell. The pair’s goal: to grow food for the local market on an organically certified farm.

The farm operates under two main principles: have the least negative impact on the environment and make money. According to Gray, it’s not either-or, they go hand-in-hand. One way he accomplishes both at the same time is by getting more utility out of things he buys.

One of the sources for the farm’s building materials is EcoStores Nebraska. Gray visits EcoStores, which he warmly refers to as a “great inspirational house,” about once a week, often looking for one thing and seeing something else that trips his imagination.

A central feature of the farm, a recently built greenhouse, will eventually produce its own energy using solar panels and wind turbines. Gray started with a salvaged greenhouse, then rebuilt it with over half of the materials coming from EcoStores.

Gray estimates that using bricks, concrete blocks, windows, doors, paint and lumber from EcoStores saved 45-50 percent in material costs. For example, a new brick costs 70 cents compared to a recycled brick at 25 cents. Multiply that by hundreds and it adds up.

For greenhouse tables, Gray ruled out the new metal commercial models that cost $750 to $800. He built his own using cement blocks from EcoStores and pallets from local businesses for $16 each.

All of the paint came from the store’s regularly stocked free paint supply. Doors were purchased for $35 compared to $100 new. The louvered windows were a special find. Gray bought the store’s entire supply, noting that sometimes the store has special gems you just can’t find anywhere else. Gray said some his most dramatic savings come from recycled lumber.

As well as buying salvaged materials Gray also repurposes equipment and supplies. “Look at something’s purpose and see what else it can be used for,” said Gray. For instance, he uses a concrete mixer to blend compost and rice hulls.

These are not isolated examples. A steadily increasing number of Nebraska businesses are looking for more than just the economic bottom line, they are looking for value in the “triple bottom line”—environmental value, social value and economic value.

© Lincoln Green by Design