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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Arts & Crafts with a Mission

Aug 25, 2010 09:42PM

Is one person’s trash really another’s treasure? According to a Durham, North Carolina-based arts and crafts store, it is.

The Scrap Exchange lets people explore their creativity while helping out the environment. The exchange was founded in 1991 as a sustainable art supply store that takes unwanted materials from businesses and community members and resells them as arts and crafts supplies. Materials sell for 50 to 70 percent off their retail prices, and popular items include paper, fabric, office supplies, marble scraps and CD cases. The idea is to promote environmental awareness and creative expression by providing high-quality, low-cost materials for artists.

The Scrap Exchange also provides an in-house art gallery to show off the work of local artists who turn recycled materials into crafts such as handmade bags, metal sculptures and jewelry. Classes in artistic skills like quilting and collage also are available. Plus, the store offers children’s birthday parties that give kids a chance to invent fun projects with their friends while teaching them about taking care of the planet.

The Resource Center in Chicago is another nonprofit organization that is encouraging creative repurposing of materials. Its Creative Reuse Warehouse (CRW) finds and recovers rejected items and byproducts that local businesses treat as waste. They donate these materials to Chicago area schools, service organizations, performance companies and individual artists. It’s a win-win situation for the CRW’s donors and recipients—donors get a tax deduction and recipients obtain materials to teach classes and create artwork that they may not have been able to afford otherwise.

Similar programs are available throughout the country. The Scroungers’ Center for Reusable Art Parts has graced San Francisco since the 1970s; participants learn about different crafts and art techniques in its unique workshops. Creative Reuse Pittsburgh, a relative newcomer, collects reusable discards from businesses and other organizations in its region, offers hands-on creative arts programs and hosts booths at local arts festivals.

Add up the mental, emotional, social and environmental benefits of artful hours used to turn trash into treasure and the lure of time well-spent at a creative reuse center is nearly irresistible.

This article was created by the Center for American Progress (

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