THE Lane County, Oregon affiliate of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) — an international Catholic charity — thrives as a nonprofit that acts entrepreneurially. Under the leadership of Terry McDonald, St. Vincent capitalizes on niche market opportunities to convert more than 40 tons/day of discarded products destined to be landfilled into marketable furniture, glassware, mattresses, building materials and appliances. “We’ve discovered that waste stream diversion is a good niche for this organization, a good way to create the income we need,” says McDonald. “We add value to products and bring them back to life.”
Windowpane glass, soda bottles and jars delivered by a major local recycler illustrate how the process works at the Aurora Glass Foundry, a division of SVDP. As reported in BioCycle (“Spotlight on Glass Recycling Innovators,” July, 2000), seven full-time employees create hot-selling items like suncatchers and commemorative pieces by crushing glass and adding color. After melting, material is poured into molds, slowly cooled and then marketed at St. Vincent’s gift shop as well as wholesale. The home decor product line now features table lamps, coasters and bowls.
In 1989, McDonald’s organization perceived a need for dressers and bookcases in its thrift stores, but the few that were available were damaged beyond further use. His Board authorized development of a wood shop to produce low end durable dressers that would also: Create job training opportunity for low income people as well as permanent jobs; Include both recycled or postmanufacturing waste materials in the products; and Have the wood shop pay its own expenses.