Nonprofit Newswire | One Person’s Trash is This Nonprofit’s Treasure

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April 17, 2010; Pittsburgh Gazette | We read a lot these days about dire economic conditions putting many nonprofits on the edge extinction. What about a nonprofit whose business thrives on failures? That’s essentially the business model for Construction Junction, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that promotes conservation by salvaging salable items from old properties and in the process keeps lumber, tiles, flooring, plumbing and other building materials out of landfills. The 11-year-old organization feels it could do even more to help itself and the environment if the city and private property owners were more willing to let it have a go at buildings ready for the wrecking ball. According to the PIttsburgh Gazette, the city continues to hold on to several condemned properties it controls “because of liability and title issues.” Among the reasons the city is reluctant to permit Construction Junction from doing deep salvage, where crews remove everything worth saving from a home or building, is that if the property is considered a hazard, the city can tear it down even if it doesn’t have full title, but a third party can not. Construction Junction also would like more business from owners of private properties. But Mike Gable, the group’s executive director, says a salvage job costs more than a straight demolition. For instance, it takes several weeks and about $15,000 to do deep salvage on a property, but an owner can bulldoze it for about half as much money and in just a few days. Gable maintains, though, the benefits of deep salvage far outweigh the costs. For one, it provides jobs. Second, the salvaged materials sell for less than the cost of new items. And finally, landfills are spared. More to the point is a 2006 study by Mercy Corps Gulf Coast Hurricane Recovery and Penn State’s Hamer Center for Community Design. Among its findings: “Recovering just 50 percent of the total lumber materials from 1,000 older wood-framed homes is equivalent to 5 million board feet valued at $2 million, which is enough lumber in turn to build approximately 400 new wood-framed houses at 2,000 square feet each. The conservative estimate of optimal labor to recover this quantity of materials from approximately 1,000 homes would create 160 full-time jobs for one full year at a living wage. The avoidance of waste from a 50 percent diversion rate is equal to about $1.04 million in disposal cost savings.” We like to see someone try to rip apart that argument.—Bruce Trachtenberg