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Build it Green! NYC brings sustainable design to Brooklyn

| October 3, 2013

Under the, tracks of the F and G trains, a few paces from a Lowe’s hardware store and the Gowanus Canal, the bright-green paint job of the Brooklyn location for Build it Green! NYC (BIG!NYC) reminds passersby of the space’s mission: the nonprofit organization provides greener options for both building and interior design.

BIG!NYC’s Gowanus “reuse center” opened in in November of 2011 and now serves as the showroom for a range of used and surplus building materials, appliances, furniture and even film-industry props priced lower than they would otherwise sell for. The original location in Astoria contains more of the heavy-duty construction materials, including about 8,000 square feet of reclaimed lumber, and as much as 50 percent of the inventory from both locations is up on the BIG!NYC website so customers have some idea of what they can expect to find in-store at any given time.

build it green

BIG!NYC in Gowanus, Brooklyn is located at 69 9th Street between Second Avenue and Smith Street.

On a recent Thursday inside the Gowanus reuse center, rows of furniture, sinks, doors, cabinetry and architectural details lifted from ornate rooms nearly covered the floor and stretched to the ceiling. A corner of the space housed shelves of donated paint and tiles in a variety of colors and patterns, while just around the corner, not far from rows of wooden cabinets and shelves of chairs, an antique doll carriage stood idly by an old sewing machine table.

It’s an interesting mix of  stuff, to say the least. This is because anyone can drop off items that fit within a relatively inclusive list of requirements. For larger donations, BIG!NYC offers free pick up and deconstruction. Plus, after disposing of their items for the betterment of the environment, donors can get a tax receipt, making donating to BIG!NYC the greener choice and, often, the cheaper choice.

build it green

Tiles on display.

Like the stock itself, the eco-minded donors and customers run the gamut. Contracting and film industry professionals are often donors and customers, and both the interior designer looking to outfit a bar with a statement piece of reclaimed wood and the young professional in need of some affordable kitchen chairs can find just that at the Gowanus reuse center.

“The goal of Build it Green and our mission, besides diverting reusable materials, is to make them available at a low cost so that everyone can benefit from reusing materials and repurposing things and fixing them, rather than throwing them away and having them go to a landfill, ” said Jack Jablkowski, communications manager for BIG!NYC.

build it green

Shelves filled with donated bathroom fixtures.

As a part of this mission, BIG!NYC also engages in other environmental initiatives. BIG!Gives Back donates to other nonprofit organizations, and another of BIG!NYC’s outgoing donation programs, BIG!Blooms, repurposes used scaffolding lumber from construction sites and turns it into raised tree and flower beds. In a city where it’s hard to go a day without passing at least one construction site, the program has been able to donate donate about 109 tons of lumber to over 130 group gardens, community groups and schools since it started almost two years ago.

build it green

A mirror reflects the shelves holding chairs.

BIG!NYC also encourages taking a green approach to food waste. BIG!Compost started in Astoria and is now expanding into north Brooklyn with some help from the Department of Sanitation. Residents in these areas can hand over their food scraps to be composted under the Queensboro Bridge in Long Island City.

Fitting in with its status as a nonprofit environmental organization, the Gowanus reuse center isn’t just a retail location—it also offers classes to empower others to reuse and repurpose as much as possible. The monthly “Know Your Tools: Women And Trans DIY 101” takes a different focus each month (power tools or cabinet repair, for example) for just a $5 or $10 donation, and a recent eight-session upholstery workshop cost $275 per person. “We price them fair and you get to go home with something,” Jablkowski said of the center’s workshops.

More than anything else, though, BIG!NYC is simply about making use of the wealth of materials that we already have at our disposal. “Recycling is a wasteful industry,” Jablkowski said. “It’s great that it’s not going into a landfill and that’s it’s going to turn into something else, but it would be great if you could go one step before that and actually repurpose or donate to somebody who could actually reuse something or repurpose it.”

We have to agree. And whether your primary concern is the environment or finding a unique-yet-affordable addition to your space, the green building underneath the train tracks is likely to have what you’re looking for.

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Category: Recycling programs

About the Author ()

At SmartSign, Monica manages and contributes to various blogs. Prior to joining the SmartSign content team, she helped produce and manage content for online publications, including NYmag.com and StyleCaster.com. Monica studied journalism and French at New York University and attended the Columbia Publishing Course, where she learned the ins and outs of book, magazine and digital publishing. She grew up in Philadelphia, Tucson and Central New Jersey, but has called New York home for the past six years, and has lived in Brooklyn, specifically, for the last two. When not reading up on the latest in waste management for RecycleReminders, she enjoys reading long-form journalism, contemporary fiction and restaurant menus.

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