April 8, 2019

Repurpose, Reuse, Recycle

Reduce, repurpose, reuse, recycle: all those “r” words we often hear around Earth Day. Buzzwords?  Maybe. If taken seriously and pursued diligently, these actions can lead to innovation and cost-savings—and even bring charm to a place. Mason Recreation’s Team Development and Experiential Learning program, The EDGE, has saved thousands of dollars by repurposing materials. In many cases, we have increased the quality of a structure or piece of equipment better than we would have by buying it new.  For example, a recent project to replace wheelbarrow handles using repurposed two-inch-thick white oak boards made for much stouter handles than those on a new, store-bought wheelbarrow.

Even larger repurposing projects have come from material donations. To help us build our course, Novec, a regional electric utility, donated a trailer-load of retired power poles. We only had to transport the poles to our facility with a borrowed trailer. With these poles, we have built benches, stair steps on steep trails, and many of our activity structures, including our team walls and cable walk challenges. Purchasing this quantity of poles new would have cost more than $20,000.

Fairfax County’s Public Works and Environmental Services periodically delivers six tractor-trailer loads of mulch to us, all recycled wood. County businesses and residents send trees and woody plants to recycling and disposal centers, which in turn shred and deliver mulch to the public for landscaping use.  The mulch benefits The EDGE by reducing impact on the roots of our hickory-oak-pine woods. Groups visiting The EDGE also have a softer, “cushiony” surface to walk on and enjoy their activities. And the county can dispose of a huge quantity of material in a short time. Win-win.

In addition, when Dominion Energy built new power line towers through the Science & Technology Campus, they donated their heavy-duty construction mats. These have given us important driving access to our trails and have lasted about three years. As they have split over time from weather and our driving, we have repurposed boards for smaller equipment, such as the wheelbarrow handles mentioned earlier.

Nearby neighbors have also donated a truckload of treated wood when rebuilding a backyard deck. We have used this wood in smaller applications such as for portable activities—and we have kept more material out of a landfill as a result.

The list keeps growing! We have made a concerted effort to re-imagine and remake things just as we help teams and individuals re-imagine and restore themselves.

Our strict approach to client safety keeps us replacing our climbing ropes based on manufacturers’ recommended timeframes or our observations of significant wear. Instead of sending retired ropes to take up more space in a landfill, we use them to make new activities, teach knot tying, and even pull out stuck vehicles.

In addition, we have transformed

  • a large electric panel box into an equipment storage locker;
  • surplus wrenches into unique door and drawer handles;
  • discarded Plexiglas into windows in our equipment sheds;
  • an old bowling ball into a pivot point under our Whale Watch balancing activity;
  • retired climbing helmets into hanging planters and unique lampshades.

As you can see, we take fun and creativity seriously at The EDGE. Such innovation adds value and lowers costs, and there’s a strong philosophy behind it all. While we celebrate the 49th Earth Day this year and the 50th the next, you can bet we will do more than recite buzzwords—we’ll remake and restore what we have toward a better world.

Thanks for reading. Share your stories of reused, repurposed, or recycled materials with The EDGE today, or book a program with us to see our projects for yourself.

By Daniel Nellis