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Chicago's Rebuilding Exchange Provides Community Access ...

Chicago's Rebuilding Exchange Provides Community Access to Reclaimed Materials

In working toward sustainable construction, contractors and deconstruction firms want to ensure their extra materials are put to good use and diverted from the waste stream. The Rebuilding Exchange has become a one-stop hub for all sorts of industrial, educational, domestic, and social needs. It is located in Chicago’s Northside Bucktown neighborhood, in its third warehouse location

Currently offered classes at The Rebuilding Exchange in Chicago, Illinois

In working toward sustainable construction, contractors and deconstruction firms want to ensure their extra materials are put to good use and diverted from the waste stream. The Rebuilding Exchange has become a one-stop hub for all sorts of industrial, educational, domestic, and social needs. It is located in Chicago’s Northside Bucktown neighborhood, in its third warehouse location since its inception in 2009, with the Delta Institute. The nonprofit now stands as its own entity. However, it is not only an industrial enterprise – it is a force for social good. With initiatives and classes to benefit customers and employees, the Rebuilding Exchange adds heart to the world of construction materials.

Senior Director Bryant Williams of the Cook County Department of Environmental Control, was integral in creating the municipal framework adopted by the Exchange, a major aspect of its success. His most notable work includes instatement of the Demolition Debris Diversion Ordinance, one of the most rigorous construction materials recycling ordinances in the Midwest. The ordinance requires all demolition projects to recycle at least 70% by weight of their materials and clearly divert at least 5% by weight of the materials for reuse. According to Mr. Williams, most of their wares come from a deconstruction partner. They also receive donations from individuals who are rehabbing their homes and have extra materials, in addition to materials from several construction contractors who enjoy a tax write-off when they donate to the nonprofit.

The Rebuilding Exchange is not the only facility in the Chicagoland area that accepts construction materials for reuse: similar ones exist in Evanston and Maywood. The Exchange is looking to “expand reach and get more materials from various contractors,” says Mr. Williams. This includes potential plans for “a Rebuilding Exchange South to cover the Southside of Chicago and its suburbs, as well as the Westside.” These areas have high levels of industrial activity. A key consideration in future locations is accessibility by car to entice future donors and customers.

Reclaimed wood at The Rebuilding Exchange in Chicago, Illinois

As it is not only a resource for contractors and deconstruction firms, the Rebuilding Exchange offers classes geared towards beginners and advanced students alike. Community members can learn to build take-away items such as cutting boards and benches, using the reclaimed wood in the warehouse. Additionally, they offer a variety of unique classes, such as Intro to Beekeeping. The theme of education and self-sustaining skill transfers to the Exchange’s treatment of its employees. The Rebuilding Exchange’s employment program empowers employees with barriers to job access. In doing so, they have trained 82 employees, with some even holding employment for as long as six years, making up “the heart and soul of the Rebuilding Exchange,” said Mr. Williams.

According to Mr. Williams, regulars tend to stop by “at least once or twice a week” and, if not shopping, will bring donations or chat. The Exchange is colored by a strong sense of community that arose organically.

Are there places in your community with a similar dynamic? Do you know other ways to connect education and reuse or recycling and community? What makers workshops are in your community and have you been to one? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below. 

Credits: Images by Hannah Flynn. Data linked to sources. Quotes from interview with Rebuilding Exchange Senior Director Bryant Williams.

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Hannah is a fourth year undergraduate Environmental Studies student at the University of Chicago with a concentration in Economics and Policy and a minor in Visual Arts. She is interested in climate change policy, public transit, and how we can use a...

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