Greenovation: The Re-Use Store

  • The ReStore sells everything from building supplies to power tools to toilets and sinks. (Photo courtesy of the Habitat for Humanity of Huron County, Michigan)

Home improvement projects cost
a lot of money. Some environmentalists
have found a way to save some money,
conserve resources, and help other
people get into homes. Lester Graham


Home improvement projects cost
a lot of money. Some environmentalists
have found a way to save some money,
conserve resources, and help other
people get into homes. Lester Graham

It seems like my friend Matt Grocoff with Greenovation TV is always working on a home improvement project. Not too long ago, he asked me to go with him to his favorite store. So we headed down the road where all the big box home improvement stores are in his hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, but that’s not where we ended up.

MG: “Just about anything I need, my first stop is always a re-use center. My favorite is, of course, the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Today I’ve gotta find a– a, uh– what do you call them? A sander, a hand sander, a belt sander?”

Matt turned to Jackie Hermann who manages this ReStore. And she pulled a case from the shelf in back.

JH: “This absolutely beautiful Porter Cable professional random orbit sander with dust collection.”

MG: “This is gorgeous. This is exactly what I need. And how much is this?”

LG: “Looks like it’s never been used.”

MG: “Almost new condition. $35.00. And it’s used material that’s not going to a landfill or sitting in somebody’s basement not being used. And here I get to use it and save money. This is another one of the things where we can debunk the myth that going green costs more.”

Okay, so Matt got a good deal and it extends the useful life of a pretty good tool. But the idea is to raise money for Habitat for Humanity to help get people into homes, so I had to ask Jackie about that.

LG: “How much of that money actually goes to Habitat for Humanity and building houses for folks?”

JH: “We have a 12% administrative overhead, so 88-cents on every dollar into a habitat home.”

There are about 600 of these ReStores across the nation. The administrative overhead varies a bit from store to store, but the money raised at each store goes to homes in that store’s local area.

Jackie says, for her area, that’s meant a bit of a shift for Habitat for Humanity. You might have heard, in Michigan there are a lot of foreclosures.

JH: “We’re not building brand-new as much. We are buying foreclosed houses that are already existing in blighted neighborhoods, and we are rehabbing them and making it livable and improving the neighborhood.”

LG: “You’re recycling houses.”

JH: “We are! We’re recycling houses also. So, when Lowe’s, for instance, donated a large quantity of items, we kept a bunch aside for construction. They come and they look though and say what they can use, and then those items are set aside for them. And then as they need them, they use them.”

And anything left over is sold in the ReStore. It’s donations that make ReStore work. It might be overstock from places like Lowe’s or from local contractors. It could be people who are moving or retiring or just don’t need an appliance any longer. They might have extra cabinets, or carpeting, or a perfectly good sink they don’t need.

JH: “The proverbial kitchen sink. Lots and lots and lots of toilets. Light fixtures, flooring, doors, windows, fasteners.”

MG: “Lester, let me show you some of the stuff they’ve got here. My wife and I spent months looking for a really high-quality, affordable, high-efficiency, front-loading washer. This is a front-loading washer and dryer. (taps on appliance) In fact, this is the same model that we bought. We paid $600 for ours. Here, at the ReStore, it’s $200. And Jackie, how do we know that this works?”

JH: “Everything’s been tested. And, it’s guaranteed for two to three months – I’m really not picky about that.”

Some things are used, some are new. It all works.

Matt Grocoff with Greenovation.TV says it keeps stuff out of the landfill, it means perfectly good building materials and appliances for home improvement projects, saves resources, and raises money to help people get into a home.

MG: “It’s a win-win across the board.”

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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A Battle Over the Treatment of Livestock

  • The treatment of laying hens is one part of the issue getting a lot of attention in Ohio. (Photo source: LEAPTOUY at Wikimedia Commons)

Recently, six states have changed their laws to require
better conditions for farm animals. But there’s a battle
brewing in one state that’s putting a new spin on the debate.
Julie Grant reports:


Recently, six states have changed their laws to require
better conditions for farm animals. But there’s a battle
brewing in one state that’s putting a new spin on the debate.
Julie Grant reports:

The Humane Society of the United States says it’s shameful
the way animals are treated on many American farms. Paul
Shapiro says veal calves, pregnant pigs, and egg-laying
hens are all kept in cages so small – it’s cruel.

“Hundreds of millions of egg-laying hens in the nation are
confined in tiny battery cages that are so restrictive the birds
are unable even to spread their wings.”

Shapiro says some farms house millions of hens, all
squished into tiny cages, and none of them get the chance to
nest, or act in any way like natural chickens. The Humane
Society has spent millions of dollars pushing for change in
California and other states.

But when the Humane Society hit Ohio with its campaign,
the state Farm Bureau Federation pushed back.

Keith Stimpert is spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau. He
says there’s a reason cages are a certain size for hens,
calves, and pigs: the animals’ safety.

“You can expand space, but you’re going to increase
aspects of fighting or cannibalistic behavior, or the chance
for that sow to fall down while she’s pregnant.”

Stimpert says the Humane Society doesn’t understand

So instead of negotiating with the Humane Society, the Ohio
Farm Bureau is proposing something new: a state board to
oversee the care of livestock.

“I think we, in this case, can get to a better resolution on
animal care by organizing this board.”

The board would include family farmers, veterinarians, a
food safety expert, and a member of a local chapter of the
Humane Society, among others.

Voters will probably be asked in November to decide
whether to change the state constitution to create this board.

But the Humane Society’s Paul Shapiro says the board will
be stacked by the Farm Bureau. He calls it a power grab by
big agriculture.

“Keep in mind that these are people who have opposed,
tooth and nail, any form of agricultural regulation for years,
and now, all of a sudden, in just a few weeks, they’ve gotten
religion and feel grave urgency to enshrine in the state’ s
constitution their own favored system of oversight.”

Shapiro says this board will only protect the status quo. And
that’s not good for the animals.

Egg producer Mark Whipple runs a small farm in Clinton,
Ohio. He’s got about 1,500 hens. We caught up with him
delivering eggs at a local health food store.

He says his hens are free range.

“There ain’t no cages, really. They go in the box, lay their
egg, and go out and run around with the rest of ‘em, go eat,
drink, I don’t know, just be free.”

Whipple says he was never inclined to cage the hens.

You might expect him to side with the Humane Society on
this debate. But he doesn’t trust them to make decisions for

“I don’t know that they really know where their food comes
from – other than they go to the grocery store or they go to
the refrigerator. Unfortunately, that’s a lot the mentality of
the world right now, so far removed from the farm at all,
knowing about livestock.”

Whipple says there are good producers and bad producers
out there – just like any business. He would rather see a
board like the one proposed by the farm bureau than a
mandate on cage sizes from a Washington DC-based
lobbying group.

But the Humane Society says the board proposed by the
Farm Bureau won’t make things better. If it’s approved by
voters this November, the Society plans to place its own
initiative on animal treatment on the ballot next year.

Meanwhile, other farm states are considering the Ohio Farm
Bureau’s approach and might soon have their own advisory
boards on how to treat animals.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

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Bike Shop in a Box

  • A mechanic works on the bikes to make them as compact as possible - removing pedals, kickstands, and turning the handlebars (Photo by Karen Kelly)

So many of us have an old bike collecting
dust in the garage. More often than not,
they end up in the garbage. But, as Karen
Kelly reports, one group has found a unique
way to recycle them:


So many of us have an old bike collecting
dust in the garage. More often than not,
they end up in the garbage. But, as Karen
Kelly reports, one group has found a unique
way to recycle them:

(sound of banging)

“That’s a sweet ride!”

A volunteer drops a bike into a pile at the back of a huge shipping container in Ottawa, Canada.
The bikes are stacked one on top of the other.

(sound of tools)

Just outside, a mechanic is stripping the bikes down to make them as compact as possible.

“If it has a kickstand, we have to remove it. We take the pedals off and turn the handlebars.”

In a few hours, this cargo container will be jammed with hundreds of donated bicycles, bike parts, and backpacks.

The gear is collected by a group called Bicycles for Humanity.
They have 20 chapters, most of them in North America.

Each chapter raises a couple of thousand dollars to buy a shipping container.
They pack it full of donated gear, and send it off to a community in Namibia, Africa. The shipping cost – another several thousand dollars – is also raised by the group.

A volunteer group there turns the container itself into a locally-run bike shop that provides jobs and transportation.

Some of the bikes are donated to health care workers who use them to pull patients on a stretcher.

Others are piled high with stacks of food and household items that defy gravity.

Martin Sullivan points to some of the pictures on display.

“These are the bakers who are able to sell their bread. And also wood, you can stack wood. It’s just amazing what they do, how they make use of these bikes that we take for granted. We throw them out, and they can do so much with them.”

(sound of traffic)

In Namibia, cars – and even bicycles – are scarce. Sullivan says these bikes make life easier for people who are used to walking miles to get to school, work, or to find the basic necessities.

Seb Oran is the co-founder of Bicycles for Humanity in Ottawa.

This is the fourth container of bikes that she’s sent to Africa.
Each one supports a local community group.
Sometimes its a hospital, sometimes an orphanage, sometimes a women’s empowerment group.
She remembers one run by former prostitutes.

“Six of them became bicycle mechanics now. And now, they don’t have to sell their bodies to put food on their plate.”

But there are some challenges.

Michael Linke runs the Bicycle Empowerment Network.
He helps the Nambians set up the bicycle shops.

“Because this is the first time a lot of these people have had formal ongoing work, it’s often difficult to get people to understand a long-term ongoing business.”

But with some mentoring, they’ve been able to make it work.
There are now 13 successful projects, with more containers filled with bikes on the way.

The group estimates that these bikes will last another 20 or 30 years in Africa. They might be junk to us, but in Namibia, they’re a precious resource.

For The Environment Report, I’m Karen Kelly.

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