Creatively Reusing Materials

The Scrap Exchange
City: 
Durham
County: 
Durham
Member Since: 
1993

The Scrap Exchange collects reusable materials such as fabric, cones, tubes, and zippers – items that the community then turns into art.  In 2009, it saved 42 tons of reusable materials from the landfill and made 52 donations of materials to other nonprofits, schools, prisons, and community groups.  The Scrap Exchange also sells these materials in its retail store, which is popular among artists and all types of “do-it-yourselfers.”  The Artists’ Market, located on-site, sells local artwork made with repurposed materials. 

“There is no other place I would rather volunteer or work than at The Scrap Exchange,” says Ruth Warren, a long-time volunteer and current staff member at the nonprofit.  “It has been a pioneer in the re-emergence of reuse.” 

As an artist, Warren has been incorporating reused items into her work since childhood.  Her parents grew up with little money and relied on reuse as a means of survival during the Depression.  Her father used salvaged nails from old pigpen lumber to build the house where Warren grew up.  Her mother saved eggshells, matchboxes, and greeting cards to make 3-dimensional ornaments.  “I learned early that reuse begins at home,” says Warren.  “The concept isn't new; humans have been re-using ever since they figured out how to repurpose a rock into a useful tool.  But sometime in the 20th Century, reuse was pushed aside.”

The Scrap Exchange is committed to the whole community.  Anyone can express their creativity in the Make-N-Take Room, the nonprofit’s open studio.  “It’s open to everyone 7 days a week, 358 days a year,” says Board President Jenna Boitano.  “The materials encourage creative learning among all ages and socioeconomic groups.”

The nonprofit also hosts monthly openings in its Green Gallery as part of downtown Durham’s Third Friday, and its e-newsletter promotes happenings, activities, and other creative opportunities in town.  Programs like these bring people to Durham and help to build the local economy. 

But, The Scrap Exchange has an even wider reach.  In 2009, it participated in more than 300 outreach events in four states.  These included classes led by local artists, special workshops for teachers and day-care providers, and other events.  All of this was accomplished on a total budget of $288,000.

 “We’re getting out into the community to help change a common perception – that if you need something or you need to fix something, you buy something new.  The Scrap Exchange teaches people to creatively reuse materials instead,” says Board Treasurer Rebecca Currie.

As long-time social entrepreneurs, the board, staff, and volunteers at The Scrap Exchange have demonstrated how some nonprofits can secure much of their funding with innovative approaches.  Ninety percent of the organization’s budget is based on income generated by the retail store and its arts programs.  Parties and events generate additional income.  The nonprofit fulfills its mission with the help of a diverse group of stakeholders, and much of their success is due to their 500 volunteers.  The Scrap Exchange also provides work for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. 

The N.C. Center also recognized the nonprofit for its accountability practices, which are critical for nonprofits.  The Scrap Exchange has also created many systems for regularly evaluating its programs and services.  The Board of Directors also evaluates the executive director’s performance every year, an approach that the Center promotes as a sound practice for nonprofits.  In terms of finances, the board and staff have appropriate segregation of duties in accounting and strict policies about who can sign checks.  “We spend the money for The Scrap Exchange the way we would spend our own personal money – we’re very careful,” says Currie. 

Walter Davenport, a CPA who serves on the N.C. Center’s statewide Board of Directors, says, “Good financial management is important for nonprofits, which must continue to earn the public’s trust every day.  The Center lifts up these good practices and trains nonprofits to do the right things the right way.”

The Scrap Exchange is very intentional about collaboration, another reason it was chosen for a Nonprofit Sector Stewardship Award.  “They really want people to see them as partners,” says Melinda Wiggins, executive director of Student Action with Farmworkers, another Durham nonprofit and winner of a 2009 Nonprofit Sector Stewardship Award.  To get the reused materials for its store and programs, The Scrap Exchange works with hundreds of local businesses, individuals, and municipalities. 

It is also part of a national coalition to advocate for reuse centers.  “We want to see legislation that would prohibit companies from throwing away reusable products,” says Woodward.

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Creatively Reusing Materials