Heather White, Director of Community Outreach and Engagement, at Rebuilding… (Andrew A. Nelles / Chicago…)
In a warehouse in Lincoln Park, a group of sustainability-minded carpenters and hobbyists are turning Michigan barn wood into bedroom headboards and porcelain sinks into garden planters.
That group is called the Rebuilding Exchange, a nonprofit that collects donated building and construction materials destined for landfills and resells them or helps Chicagoans turn them into new items. Since it was founded in 2009, the Rebuilding Exchange has diverted more than 1,000 tons of materials away from landfills, according to Heather White, the director of community outreach and engagement. It is one of a growing number of local nonprofits working toward reducing the amount of waste Chicago sends to landfills each year.
"Roughly 60 percent of what goes into Chicago's landfills is construction debris, and a lot of it is useable," White said. "Everything has multiple purposes besides its original purpose. We try to offer people two or three examples of what they can do."
Set up like the inside of a Home Depot, the storeroom offers rows and rows of unfinished wood, in addition to finished cabinets, kitchen sets, bathroom appliances, and light fixtures, all offered at deep discounts. On a recent weekday, a full set of wood cabinets that could be installed in a kitchen as-is was retailing for $1,400.
Rebuilding Exchange's clients include landlords, restaurateurs looking to redecorate, and film crews looking for cheap props. The warehouse, at 1740 W. Webster Ave., is also open to the public for browsing. It also has a wood shop with multiple work tables where the Rebuilding Exchange staff holds classes. Recent do-it-yourself workshops have included classes on bicycle repair, reusing plastic bags and green plumbing.
In one workshop, White taught attendees to create mirrors and frames out of donated glass mirrors and wood, and reuse metal to make cold-frame boxes for garden planters.
Reclaimed materials come from all over Chicagoland and nearby states: wood from barns in Wisconsin and Michigan; cabinets from homes on the North Shore; scraps from a Streeterville demolition site, White said.
"Doors, windows, tile, radiators ... we'll take anything from a building that's not hazardous. It's constantly changing in here."