May 14, 2010 Features & Images » Feature Story

The best idea ever 

Record sales at Re-Use-It Centre funding community service


About to be released financial figures show that Whistler's Re-Use-It Centre is more than just a feel-good idea.

In 2009, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, some 48,000 customers purchased used goods at the Re-Use-It Centre, helping the modestly housed operation to rack up $650,000 in sales.

"It is one of our most talked about successes in the sustainability work we have been doing," said Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed.

The idea for a Re-Use-It Centre goes back to the late 1980s, said Melamed, recalling that as a member of AWARE he helped the newly minted organization present the idea to the Council of the day.

While it was widely regarded as a good idea it languished for years. With the Cheakamus landfill still in operation an underground operation existed with people combing the dump for recyclables and things that could be re-used.

"There was a lot of re-usable stuff there," said Melamed.

"These people would make it their job to go through the dump."

The practice was not endorsed so a way had to be found to legitimize it, he said.

Today local governments across Canada are looking at ways to reclaim waste, and Whistler's Re-Use-it Centre stands out.

"It is definitely a model that I think municipalities should look at," said Melamed. "In the city (Vancouver and others) they have some similar services... so I don't think it is the only way, but for Whistler it was a logical fit."

After operating costs of about one third are subtracted the rest of the $650,000 will go to fund a myriad of services for Whistler through the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS). The funds support everything from youth outreach, to a green house project, to kids sports and the well-used food bank.

"We would not have been able to grow our agency to match the community needs without it," said Greg McDonnell, executive director of the WCSS. Recently the Re-Use-It Centre celebrated its 11 th year in operation, including two renovations to expand the space to keep up with demand.

McDonnell believes that having a strong revenue source not reliant on government grants is becoming more and more necessary as funding sources for non-profits like the WCSS dry up.

"We were ahead of our time establishing this and now you are seeing big municipalities and groups getting behind the idea because they see the viability," said McDonnell.

For WCSS the impact is much more than financial. The success of the Re-Use-It Centre has created a web of involvement for community leaders. Now WCSS staff sit on committees tackling issues like waste management, affordability and livability, creating an overlap of knowledge and creativity that the whole community benefits from.

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