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Valley companies give new life to discarded building materials

Chelsea Pickett, Stardust’s business development manager, says the growth of metro Phoenix makes it challenging to keep up with construction demands, but more people participating in the reuse movement could ease the pressure. (Photo by Megan Marples/Cronkite News)

MESA – Doorknobs overflow rows of boxes, piles of miscellaneous wood and squares of carpet lay neatly on the floor. Light fixtures hang from various shelves – all of it discarded construction and demolition waste.

A 2015 Environmental Protection Agency fact sheet on construction and demolition waste found more than 545 million tons of debris ended up in landfills every year, even though 75% of those materials had the potential for reuse.

Companies like the nonprofit Stardust Building Supplies are working to stop waste from ending up in landfills by providing deconstruction services and selling discounted building materials at two warehouses in Mesa and Glendale.

Chelsea Pickett, Stardust’s business development manager, said many people don’t realize that construction and demolition debris accounts for twice as much as municipal waste in the U.S.

“What we’re trying to do is shine a light on this big problem and say there’s a solution,” Pickett said. “You can choose deconstruction. You can choose to donate these usable building materials. They’ll be given a second life.”

The Gifts In Kind program at Stardust redistributes essential toiletry and household items from retailers that would have otherwise been thrown away to other nonprofit organizations in the community.

The service not only reduces waste, she said, it also saves homeowners and businesses money.

“And it’s also helping the community, with our specific program Gifts In Kind we’re able to actually turn those proceeds into something that helps other nonprofits in the Valley,” she said.

Harvest Eco-Salvage, which has operated in Scottsdale for 16 years, specifically tackles larger deconstruction projects, such as entire houses, and donates reusable materials to other nonprofits, including Stardust and Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona’s ReStores, which sell homebuilding and improvement materials.

Linda Eales, founder and executive director of Harvest Eco-Salvage, said the unusable materials also are recycled. For example, the nonprofit takes concrete to crushing plants to be turned into gravel.

Over time, Eales said, houses fall out of fashion, and that can be reflected in property values. So people will get rid of perfectly good materials to update their homes. That’s where Harvest Eco-Salvage comes in.

“The materials they donate can go so far and help so many other people,” she said, adding that tax write-offs used to be people’s main motivation for utilizing Harvest’s services.

“You know, even when I was talking with my own clients about green building, they’d say, ‘You want us to paint everything green?’ … because they just weren’t familiar with these terms,” Eales said. “Now the fact that people are starting to understand what sustainability is and why you don’t contaminate your recycling bin that’s at your curb because it ruins the whole boat.”

Mark Effinger, field operations manager at Kitchen Masters, a kitchen remodeling company in Tempe, said his long partnership with Stardust has been beneficial because it saves time in the deconstruction process. He also feels confident in recommending the company’s work.

“That’s a key thing because it gives the homeowner the confidence to have them come and do it,” Effinger said. “When I tell them that they’ve been doing this forever – that I’ve used them since ‘05 – and they know how to take things apart to preserve the integrity of it.”

Pickett said Stardust has grown over the years from three people and one truck to two locations with over 60,000 combined square feet of warehouse space. This growth comes at a time when the population of metro Phoenix also is on the rise.

Phoenix is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., and construction is increasing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean reused materials are ending up in new construction.

“I would say that’s probably the biggest challenge is just that perception that using reclaimed or reused building materials for whatever reason isn’t the best option,” Pickett said.

Laura Ward, who’s a frequent customer of Stardust Building Supplies, said she doesn’t mind the little bit of extra work it may take to recycle or refurbish something.

“There’s a great savings involved, but they also they keep things out of the landfills by recycling them.” she said. “So anytime I can reuse anything, it gives me a little bit of feeling good at the same time is saving money from not having to go to the big box stores and spend.”

Ward said she comes nearly every week to see the new things that the warehouse has to offer.

“You never know what you’re going to find.”

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