In New York City, construction and demolition waste accounts for 50+% of the solid waste stream. OVER 50 PERCENT OF THE SOLID WASTE STREAM!!!!! This is insane. I had absolutely no idea just how much waste construction created until I crossed paths with the Program Director of Build it Green, Justin Green (what a last name!) and visited their reuse center in Astoria, Queens to learn that what is commonly being thrown away in construction projects is valuable, durable, and beautiful.
At first glance it appeared to be a much, much cooler step sibling of Home Depot with aisles filled with cans of paint, retro chairs, vintage stoves, and antiqued doors. But if you travel over to one of their two reuse centers in Astoria or Gowanus, Brooklyn, chances are that you are not just there to pick up a few screws because Build it Green! is
anything but your conventional home improvement store. It is a non-profit that sells tons of reused and salvaged materials at 40-80% off retail prices.
It is hard to envision anything in their entire reuse center even being considered trash, but amazingly it would have been had BIG not adopted it. Their inventory spans from claw foot tubs and beautiful sinks that predate my grandmother’s mother’s mother to salvaged church pews that would have otherwise been tossed.They even have gorgeous antique redwood planks (which you can’t cut down anymore) recovered from NYC water towers for sale. Ten minutes after being there, I found myself asking, “am I crafty enough to figure out how to do something with 27 antique radiators?”
During my visit I interviewed my tour guide, Jaclyn Jablkowski, Communications Manager of BIG!NYC, to learn more:
When/how was BIG!NYC founded?
In 2005, a local nonprofit organization, Community Environmental Center (CEC) secured a large grant from the Durst Foundation for what was to be the beginning of Build It Green!NYC (BIG!NYC). This included a temporary storage space and a contract from the Durst Organization for deconstruction services. CEC’s 10-person crew – including BIG!NYC cofounder Justin Green – undertook the skim deconstruction of 5 buildings in midtown Manhattan, comprised of approximately 55,000 square feet of mixed-use space. CEC’s work yielded over 70 tons of materials salvaged for reuse and recycling that would have been landfilled.
CEC initially sold materials from the deconstruction job and the storage space. Since the temporary facility could only receive a limited number of customers, CEC relocated the materials to a larger and more accessible facility in Astoria, Queens. Build It Green!NYC now operates in an 35,000 sq ft warehouse at 3-17 26th Ave in Astoria, Queens and a second location at 69 9th St. in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Customers and suppliers include the business community (e.g. general contractors, plumbing and electrical contractors, theater and film companies, commercial and residential property developers, building managers, and artisans), city agencies, homeowners and long-term renters alike.
What is BIG!NYC’s mission?
Build It Green! NYC, is New York City’s only non-profit retail outlet for salvaged and surplus building materials. Our reuse centers have everything from panel doors to high end refrigerators, window shutters to reclaimed lumber, kitchen cabinet sets to salvaged flooring. Our mission is to keep these materials out of the landfill, while offering deep discounts on their resale. We are working towards reducing the amount of unnecessary construction and demolition (C&D) waste clogging our landfills, which contributes to pollution, GHG emissions, climate change and global warming.
What services does BIG!NYC offer?
Anyone can donate reusable building materials to our reuse centers, seven days a week (during store hours). Here’s a list of materials that are accepted: bignyc.org/accepted-materials-drop-off
In addition to accepting donations at two locations in NYC, BIG!NYC also provides limited free pick up services for large donations. To learn if your donation qualifies, please review this list of accepted items: bignyc.org/accepted-materials-pick-up.
And for larger projects, BIG!NYC also offers deconstruction services. Deconstruction is the selective and careful dismantling of buildings to maximize re-use and recycling rates. Build It Green!NYC’s Deconstruction Team can professionally dismantle anything from a kitchen to a whole house, uninstalling the items carefully and removing the items as a tax deductible donation. Decon is also your best environmental, and often financial, alternative to the landfill!
Do you find that people forget about construction waste when they think of NYC’s waste output?
NYC’s C&D waste is often overlooked when we speak about waste – we generally think of residential or commercial waste, but the city’s C&D waste contributes to 50% of our waste stream, up to 19,000 tons per day!
Do you see the construction industry moving towards greener practices?
I think the industry is growing with the green movement – from utilizing more eco-friendly products, and designing with reuse in mind, the industry is working towards improving their green practices. I think the current trend of salvage in NYC bars, restaurants and even homes doesn’t hurt the cause, either!
What is the most interesting thing you have seen donated to BIG!?
A while back we had a donation of a HUGE silver Christmas tree ornament – it was at least 10 feet wide! The guys hung it up in Astoria, until some lucky customer spotted it and bought it as the center piece for their party.
What are BIG!NYC’s aspirations for the future?
BIG!NYC would love to continue growing as an organization, providing more green jobs for New Yorkers and salvaging more reusable materials from the city’s waste stream. Already this year we’ve launched a sawmill to transform urban wood waste into a beautiful new product. And beyond expanding the mill, our BIG!Compost initiative, and our giving back programs (BIG!Blooms and BIG!Gives Back), it would be great to see our organization grow to bigger spaces in NYC (so we can salvage more materials!).