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How To: Start a Creative Reuse Revolution in Your Community in 5 Steps

Lisa Hernandez opened the Long Beach Center for Creative Reuse with one simple guiding principal: one man's trash is another's treasure.

About this time each year many of us discover things in the drawers of our cupboards, on the shelves of our closets, and underneath our beds that are the remnants of some well intentioned (or impulsive) purchase. And though the clutter takes different forms—the too small coat or the old, scratched vinyl—those things we once valued are usually given a second life, donated to the Salvation Army or perhaps sold on Ebay. It's rare that an old sweater would end up in the same pile of trash as last night's dinner.

But what about those things in between? Things like hangers and yarn, or a collection of bottle caps or a rubber band ball? If you're like most Americans, that kind of almost-but-not-quite trash will, in the end, wind up in the almost fourteen hundred pounds of waste each of us discards every year. That's the motivating force behind Pepsi Refresh Project grantee Lisa Hernandez's Long Beach Depot for Create Reuse.

Her project aims to find creative ways to re-purpose and re-imagine the "junk" that most of us throw out. The center's mission—similar to the 30 year- old East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse—can be succinctly summed up in that old saying we know so well: One man's trash is another's treasure. Rather than throw out those old frames or fabric swatches, why not allow others to reuse them? To that end, Hernandez has set up shop in a 1,000 square foot storefront next to an art supply store in Long Beach, California's art district selling things like mismatched buttons, carpet samples and scratched CDs for pennies.

Saving old paper clips and broken frames doesn't sound revolutionary? Think again. Not only does it divert thousands of pounds of trash from landfill, it provides materials for cash strapped artists and teachers, and an opportunity for a second career for people like Hernandez who are looking for meaningful way to give back to their community.

"I think this model could and should be used throughout the country,” she says. And while it's not exactly a profit making scheme, it is a financially sustainable model that Hernandez says is fairly easy to get started. Here's how.

1) Create a business name and plan. "Once I secured a name I felt more invested and it motivated me to move forward," says Hernandez. Business plans are important whether you plan to file for non-profit status or not. A good business plan will help you find your strengths and weaknesses as well as potential opportunities you may not have flagged before. "It's a good exercise to go through and it gives you a plan that you can begin to visualize," she says.

2) File for non-profit status ASAP. Hernandez recommends setting up creative reuse centers as non-profits from the very beginning. Your non-profit status will allow you to receive tax-deductible in-kind donations and even on a location for your center, which brings us to the next step.

3) Find a central location. Teachers and artists will likely be the bulk of your regular customers, so try to set up shop near where they already go. Hernandez found a location near an art supply store that local artists frequent and had a built-in customer base from the start.

4) Curate your collection. One thing you have going for you in launching a creative reuse center it is this: people have stuff. Lots of it. Initially it may be hard to find the kinds of things you are looking for, but it won't be long before churches, businesses, and estates are offering more than you can likely handle. The key, then, is to curate. Once you've set up your system for accepting donations you'll want to create attractive displays for displaying the goods you do accept.

5) Build your community. A creative reuse center will never be a cash cow, but it can turn a modest profit and support local artists and educators if it's managed well. Hernandez created a "supporting artist" program to create opportunities for local artists and in turn has a steady stream of volunteers. Be sure to include your neighbors in the days and weeks leading up to your opening and contact local art schools and art supply stores. How you engage your community will be an integral part of your success or failure, says Hernandez.

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