Buildings don’t have to be new to be beautiful and functional, and the same can be said for building materials. In fact, there are many advantages to using secondhand building materials. They are often more affordable than new ones. It can be the case that older building materials are higher quality than goods manufactured in the modern era. They can bring wonderful period details that might be difficult to find otherwise. For companies focused on green or sustainable building, used materials can help lower a project’s carbon footprint.
In Eugene, Ore., a partnership between the non-profit BRING, the city of Eugene and Lane County has yielded a sought-after program designed to help buildings get better access to quality, affordable building materials. The Construction Materials Recovery and Reuse (CMRR) program is a free service that works with contractors and active construction sites to divert reusable materials slated for the landfill, educate contractors about best practices for sustainable material management and ease the financial burden of large-scale disposal costs.
Here’s how the program works: Once a remodeling company signs up, a CMRR representative walks through the company’s sites with them and helps their representatives identify what materials can be reused. The contractor then deconstructs those portions of the building and sends the materials to BRING, which sells them in its retail store. If the construction company wants to incorporate second-hand materials in its projects, CMRR staff can help them source high-quality materials from the store or other construction sites.
“The CMRR program is a win for everyone involved,” says Program Manager Matt Mueller-Curson. “The construction companies save money by decreasing their disposal costs. They may also be eligible for ad tax write-off when they donate to a non-profit. People living in the community gain access to good-quality building materials at an affordable cost.”
The environment is a sure winner because many construction materials have very high embodied energy. When these materials sit in landfills, all of that energy—as well as natural resources, such as wood, ores and petroleum—is wasted, as well. People must harvest virgin materials, leading to non-eco-friendly activities, such as logging and mining.
“BRING is a social enterprise, so the majority of our revenue comes from earned income instead of more traditional sources, like grants and donations,” says BRING Executive Director Carolyn Stein. The fact that the CMRR program generates money to fund BRING’s community and business education programs, employment programs for disadvantaged people and other community services is a real plus. BRING hopes to eventually work with non-profits and municipalities to replicate this program in other communities.
The CMRR program has continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and has proved particularly valuable through that time. The crisis has caused well-documented disruptions to supply chains, including manufacturing facility shutdowns and staffing shortages that have ground shipping to a halt. Homeowners stuck in their houses with little else to do have driven up demand for building materials, as have natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes and floods.
The CMRR program has ensured a flow of affordable building materials to BRING so that homeowners and business owners could access lumber, doors, plumbing fixtures and other materials when they were hard to find in local stores. Their low cost was a benefit for people facing the financial strain of job losses and budget cuts.
“In the future, as climate change continues to advance and materials shortages become more common, programs like CMRR are one important way that people can get access to the materials they need to build and rebuild homes, businesses and communities,” Stein adds. Investing in these materials now means they will be there when people truly need them.