Garbage People

“Garbage can be fun.” So say the folks at EcoWorks, and the proof is in the salvaged wares they’ve packed into bins, baskets and boxes around the organization’s Creative Reuse Center in Fair Haven, waiting for crafty and conscientious New Haveners to grab them at low (or no) cost.

Spools of ribbon go for a quarter. Picture frames start at 50 cents. Board games (Clue, Risk, Monopoly and others) cost $1-3. Office paper is sold by the inch, $2 per. A bigger-ticket item is a loom, tagged $40. Back on the other end, a shiny red boa goes for half a buck.

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Machine de Cirque at Arts & Ideas, June 23-27

Like the Island of Misfit Toys, this is a place where unwanted objects come to find new purpose. Certain items seem most workable in the hands of artists or educators—a box of mismatched puzzle pieces, for instance, or egg cartons priced at 5 cents a pop. A large two-tone blue sign that once hawked hot dogs and candy for a small food business awaits an owner who likes to hang that sort of thing up for decoration, or maybe a high school drama educator in need of a prop. A box of records invites bargain hunters who don’t mind a few extra grooves scratched into their vinyl.

Not least because of its name, you probably see EcoWorks as an environmental conservation and arts organization. Founding member and current board chair Sherill Baldwin agrees, with a twist. “I see it as an economic and community development organization,” she says, albeit one that deploys environmentalism and support for the arts as “the tools to get there.”

Tucked into a second-floor corner of an old, painted-and-peeling industrial space—the structure itself a testament to the benefits of repurposing—the reuse center is the result of efforts that began in earnest in 2014. Incorporated in 2012 by Baldwin, Lisa Spetrini and Lil Snyder, EcoWorks emerged out of Decon ’11, a national conference held in New Haven that year. The point of the annual gathering is to highlight the ethics and practices of “deconstruction:” salvaging reusable assets from old constructions before they’re discarded or demolished.

None of EcoWorks’s founders were strangers to the concept, but they came at it from different directions. Baldwin has devoted more than 25 years of her life to resource and materials management, now working in the Source Reduction and Recycling Group for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Spetrini, who helmed Elm City Handmade, a pop-up “makers’ collective” that operated from 2010 to 2011, is certified in both welding and drafting and currently designs custom wood columns. Snyder manages the Small Contractor Development Program for the city of New Haven, which encourages the development of small, minority and women-owned businesses. She’s also someone who, as Baldwin puts it, “definitely loves garbage.”

By the end of 2013, EcoWorks began offering services and programs while participating in local festivals and fairs. In September 2014 it went brick-and-mortar with help from Project Storefronts, opening the Creative Reuse Center inside Boldwood Interiors, a restaurant furniture maker with a spare corner of warehouse space to offer. One of only about 50 such endeavors in the entire country, Baldwin says, the center opens to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month.

Through the end of June, anyway. It appears EcoWorks will have to find a new location for the center come July, which could cause some skips in its regularly scheduled programming.

Then again, if anyone can salvage this salvage operation, it ought to be the folks behind EcoWorks.

Creative Reuse Center – 134 Haven St, 2nd floor, New Haven (map)
10am-3pm, 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month

Written by Erin Shanley. Photos 7 & 10 taken by Erin Shanley; remainder photographed by Dan Mims.

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