ReUse Center in Ithaca Aims to Help Environment and Unite Community

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Written by Nick Fustor; Video by Madison Bess

For much of the United States, recycling or throwing things away is the norm.  But for some environmental activists, “reusing” old items has become a central focus of their lives.  As a result, reuse stores have started to open around the country, and two are now open in Ithaca, New York.

Finger Lakes ReUse, a non-profit company based in Tompkins County, operates two ReUse stores in Ithaca, New York.  Finger Lakes ReUse opened its first store on Triphammer Road, and opened another location on Elmira Road in 2015 in order to increase the quantity of goods they could intake.  Reuse stores are similar to thrift stores, but take in and sell a wider variety of goods, including household items, building materials and electronics.  

Diane Cohen, the executive director of Finger Lakes ReUse, said the company began in an effort to reduce waste and offer residents’ more options for discarding old goods.

“Our mission is to enhance community, economy and environment through reuse,” Cohen said.  “We’re looking to be as resourceful as we can with what is already here and existing in our community.  We’re essentially harvesting used materials and transforming them into materials, which in turn becomes jobs.  We’re also using them as teaching tools so people can develop skills.”

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Finger Lakes ReUse operates an on-site computer shop, where employees can gain experience in the tech and IT fields.  Cohen said many employees work at the ReUse center with the goal of discovering their future career path.

“We spend a lot of time and energy refurbishing computers, removing the data that was existing, testing all of the components and installing a new hard drive,” Cohen said.  “Our workers get experience in what the tech and the IT world is and they can see if it’s the type of career path they want to get on.  There’s skills that can be learned along the way and we’re actually layering on positive benefits through the simple task of reuse.  If they go through the entire program, they can show they’ve got these skills.”

Ivan Yalanzhi, a retail manager at the Elmira Road location, said the ReUse Center helps educate not only the community, but also its employees.  “It’s a great educational aspect for people to see how perfectly good stuff can be reused,” Yalanzhi said.

Cohen said the Ithaca community has been fully supportive of the center, and it has attracted a wide range of customers.

“By having a physical presence [in the town]and being available, convenient and affordable for people, that has attracted a very diverse group of people who keep coming back over and over because they recognize the resource,” she said.  “A lot of times we’ll sell a coffee table to a grad student, and then two years later it comes back to us and we’ll just put it back on the floor – so it becomes this more cyclical thing.”

An EPA study found that the United States generated 258 million tons of waste in 2014.  For reference, most cars weigh approximately half a ton.  The average person contributes 4.3 pounds of waste every day, according to a study conducted by Duke University.  By teaching communities to reuse, Cohen said waste can be significantly reduced.  However, Cohen said some people are apprehensive to rely on reuse since they’re used to simply throwing things away.  The ReUse Center aims to make it easy for everyone in the community, she said.

“Our greatest impact is being able to contribute to making it easy for people to reuse,” she said.  “We want to be something that everyone’s aware of, and something that’s really easy.”

Finger Lakes ReUse recently received a $1.89 million grant from NYSERDA, and has plans to add housing and additional retail space to its Elmira Road location.

“It will allow us to bring more materials in here and spread the word, and I am really exciting about this project that’s going on,” Yalanzhi said.  By adding housing, Cohen said the location will contribute to fixing the city’s housing problem, and give the store more space to intake goods.

In addition to its physical stores, Finger Lakes ReUse offers pickup services for goods that may be difficult for customers to transport.  The company also “deconstructs” buildings to harvest materials to be sold for reuse at the center.  The ReUse Center has quickly become a staple of Ithaca, and Cohen said it’s helped forge a stronger sense of community.

“We find that people empower themselves through the activity of reuse,” Cohen said.

The Ithaca ReUse Center is located at 214 Elmira Rd., and the Triphammer ReUse Center is located at 2255 N Triphammer Rd.

Click here to watch our video about Finger Lakes ReUse.

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