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Planting a seed for green business in Juneau

Posted: June 27, 2013 - 12:03am

Over the course of his 15 years in the construction business in Juneau, Jason Donig watched a lot of usable building material go into the landfill. And there wasn’t much he could do about it.

“There was a lot of waste,” he said. “I’d be on jobs and see the piles that were going to the dump, knowing they were useful.”

Though he looked for opportunities to reuse materials when he could, Donig admits that on the job, efficiency and recycling are often at odds.

“When you’re in the zone, when you’re out working, even if there’s something that’s perfectly good, you just want to get the job done, and you throw it away,” he said.

Now he’s come up with a way to address what he sees as a serious waste of resources, by integrating his construction expertise and his environmental focus. He’s currently laying the groundwork for a new business, Alaska ReUse, a repurposing store and deconstruction service provider. He plans to open on Shaune Drive in Lemon Creek later this summer. The new business will take usable waste and project overflow from building contractors and others, providing them with a green alternative to the landfill, while offering builders and homeowners a place to acquire materials and supplies.

Donig, a specialty contractor and owner of Authentic Woodworking, said the construction companies he’s talked to so far have been very enthusiastic.

“I’ve been going around to all the big construction companies and introducing myself, shaking their hands,” he said. “Most of them are very receptive, very excited,” he said.

Local contractor Brad Cure is among those who thinks the business is a great idea. Like Donig he hates to see things go to waste, and often incorporates salvaged materials in his projects.

“I’m excited for him and for Juneau to have a business like this in our community,” Cure said. “I think it’s been needed for a long time.’

Cure, who stores usable building materials in his yard out on North Douglas, said generally speaking there are no requirements for recycling building waste, and that there are several strong factors working against builders who are interested in doing it, proper storage among them.

“From my experience with recycling it really takes energy and effort,” Cure said. “It takes effort to bring it home, it takes a place to store it and it takes protecting it from rust, age or rot.”

“And even if you know it has value and that somebody could use it, it’s a matter of finding a home for it. That’s why what I think Jay is doing is something we’ve needed for a long time.”

The City and Borough of Juneau’s Solid Waste Coordinator, Jim Penor, is also in favor of Donig’s plan.

“We support his efforts for sure,” Penor said, adding that he would point people in Donig’s direction when he could.

Donig’s business model operates on the idea that the builders and homeowners will be saving money by using Alaska ReUse, since they won’t have to pay to take their materials to the dump. Other items may be worth cash, depending on what they are.

“The pitch for the company is instead of you taking to the dump, I take it for free,” Donig said. “I’m sticking with that, but there might be some special cases.”

Waste Management, Inc. operates the landfill in Juneau (while Arrow Refuse, a subsidiary of Alaska Pacific Environmental Services, takes care of collections). Two kinds of waste are tracked in the industry: municipal solid waste (MSW) and construction and demolition debris (C&D). According to WMI, about a quarter of the waste deposited in the landfill is C&D debris, figures that match up with national averages posted by the EPA.

According to the city, the landfill has an estimated 30 years of capacity remaining, based on receiving about 33,000 tons of waste per year.

Other than Donig’s future lot, there aren’t many existing local options for redirecting C&D waste. Two online options are Craigslist (juneau.craigslist.org) and Freecyle (groups.yahoo.com/group/JuneauAKFreecycle). Anchorage has some better alternatives, including a web based resource called the Alaska Materials Exchange, operated through the nonprofit organization Green Star (www.greenstarinc.org/html/resources/ak-materials-exchange.php), and, even better, a Habitat for Humanity ReStore that focuses on building and construction materials. According to the ReStore website, since the store opened in 2004, more than 6 million pounds of product that might have gone into the landfill have been redirected through the ReStore.

Donig’s business will fill a similar niche in Juneau – and in fact he spoke with someone from Habitat for Humanity during his planning process. He also checked out a salvage company in Vermont, and went down to Seattle to meet with staff from EarthWise Architectural Salvage and some other businesses.

In formulating his plan, Donig also had a lot of help from the Department of Veterans Affairs. A former marine and a disabled vet, Donig spent hours with a business counselor in the VA’s job placement program, and credits staff there with helping to fine tune his ideas for the business and come up with an initial plan. He said he’s spent two years on the project so far, and has dealt with most of the major issues including financial projections and insurance and liability concerns.

Soon he hopes to hire an office manager and someone to help him organize inventory in the yard.

Though the business will be in an industrial area near Costco, he hopes to create a welcoming atmosphere where people feel comfortable browsing around and asking questions.

“I want it to be a place where people can come in and feel comfortable, not feel intimidated, and find it easy to ask questions,” he said. “A lot of people that aren’t in the industry come into this area and think ‘This isn’t my comfort zone.’ So I think it has to be welcoming here.’

Though the environmental factors are his main goal in establishing the business, he’ll also likely be tapping into the interior design interests of Juneau homeowners, who may see aesthetic value in repurposed items such as old beams and interesting fixtures. If design magazines like Dwell are any indication, the salvage trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

To that end, Donig plans to introduce interesting architectural salvage from Seattle from time to time, the product of an agreement with Seattle’s EarthWise. He has plans to fill a container with inventory such as vintage lighting, old doors, sinks, cabinetry, and other items, and he’s now gathering investors to support the first shipment.

“I think the stuff from Seattle is going to draw people in,” he said. “(After the first shipment) I’ll figure out what sold and what didn’t and what I need more of. I’d like to get a load every month.”

Donig said the folks at EarthWise are happy to share, as they have more inventory than they can handle.

“It’s endless what I can get,” Donig said.

Though this will entail shipping the container up from Seattle, Donig still considers it environmentally positive, as it will help keep existing elements in use and out of the landfills, and preclude the need for new products.

“When you balance it all out I think it’s still green, it’s still plus green,” he said.

Future plans for the business also include having it operate as a hub for other green-oriented businesses -- such as solar and wind power development, vegetable oil recycling, and even home-improvement workshops. Donig, a former Juneau Youth Services employee, also hopes to develop a relationship with city youth programs, as another way to stretch out into the community.

“I’d like to have as many little niches out of here as possible,” he said. “I don’t want this to be just me. It’s definitely a team thing.”

“I don’t think it will ever end, who I can go and talk to.”

To find out more about Alaska ReUse, email akreuse@gmail.com.

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