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One person’s trash is this center’s treasure

Nonprofit collects, sells and distributes reusable materials.

Inspiration can strike at any time while walking through Austin Creative Reuse, a nonprofit retail center that collects, sells and distributes reusable materials. Almost everything in the center, from cork stoppers to old keys, has the possibility of being transformed.

Since 2011, when the nonprofit launched, the group’s been teaching Austinites to pause before tossing an item into the trash or recycling bin. Over the years, the popular craft meetups they’ve hosted around the city have not only diverted waste from landfills but also helped build community.

With the grand opening of its retail space on Feb. 13 near the former Highland Mall, Austin Creative Reuse brings the Hobby Lobby meets thrift shop meets community center concept to a city that’s committed to reducing the amount of trash sent to the landfills by 90 percent by 2040.

City of Austin officials, including City Council Member Greg Casar and Austin Resource Recovery Director Bob Gedert, will be part of the grand opening celebration from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., which will feature reuse games with prizes, free drinks and sweets and a creation station.

Creative reuse centers, which can be found from Oregon to North Carolina, attract everyone from makers to teachers. “We don’t want to be a store,” says Austin Creative Reuse Vice President Carole LeClair. “We’re a center.”

The volunteer-run organization relies on material donations — from both the public and businesses — such as art and craft and office supplies that can be potentially upcycled or repurposed. While they do have a working list of items they accept, people should also use their imaginations before cleaning their closets and donating. Can those photo booth props be reused? Are you ever going to use those Mickey Mouse party napkins again? “In a traditional thrift store, items like this might get lost in the shuffle,” says Rebecca Stuch, ACR founder and board president.

Implementing an educator’s program at the new center, Stuch says, will also help the nonprofit identify how to best help teachers, who often have to buy their own classroom materials. ACR plans to create classroom kits using reusable materials that align with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills test.

Creative reuse centers also prevent new items from ending up in the trash by forming partnerships with businesses. When an Austin company updated its logo and couldn’t distribute its leather-bound notebooks as marketing materials anymore, ACR scooped them up. The center’s shoppers personalized the notebooks with vintage album covers.

Partnerships with interior design companies and designers have allowed the center to carry items such as new tiles or carpet samples from discontinued product lines or end-of-line fabrics.

“Many large companies tend to throw these materials away,” Stuch says. “They just don’t know where to take it. You have so much coming in and out. It’s more effort and time to take care of one pen, and so in the trash it goes.”

And what happens to all of the materials after a business or academic conference ends? ACR recently acquired a large donation of new, refillable markers after a conference when a European company chose not to ship its leftover products back overseas.

“We have so many conferences in Austin,” Stuch says. Looking for ways to creatively reuse those materials can change the way people look at everyday items, she says.

“We don’t want people to think of us only as a place where you can buy crafts,” LeClair says. “We want people to think of us as a place where you can be with your friends and do something fun, creative and outside of the box.”

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