The Dirty Little Secret Behind Making Cheap Crafts

Creative Reuse At ScrapWant to know my favorite crafting-on-a-budget secret? I use other people's recycled trash -- not by scrounging around in the garbage, but by going to a store that actually sells the stuff.

It's called SCRAP, which stands for "Scrounger’s Center for Reusable Art Parts." It’s a warehouse that collects castoff office and craft supplies like paper, tiles, paint, fabric, posters, cards -- basically, the most random, weird stuff -- and sells it for pennies on the dollar

It’s a new kind of recycling, and it’s catching on just about everywhere. If there’s one near you, find it. If there isn’t, start one.


Here’s how it works: Businesses donate their excess. They get a tax write-off, and instead of going into landfills, their trash goes back into circulation. It’s like stealing from the office, only you pay a couple bucks and don’t feel guilty. What's more, you can try a random craft with very little overhead. What's not to like?

On a recent foray into SCRAP, I spent seven bucks and scored:

  • A ream of sturdy card-stock letterhead from a business that had changed its logo (I used it to print out crochet patterns)
  • An untouched notebook of construction paper
  • About 50 binder clips in assorted sizes (I use these to close chip and frozen vegetable bags in my kitchen)
  • A large handful of clothespins (I use them to hang hand-washed items, keep stuff from blowing away from my beach bag, that kind of thing)
  • A small embroidery hoop
  • A 2010 datebook of Charley Harper illustrations I plan to turn into wall art
  • A skein of pretty cotton crochet yarn
  • A pair of brightly-colored, unworn bowling shoes in my husband’s size!

You can’t walk in with a fixed agenda, though -- you get what you get. But it's an amazing way to kick-start your creativity. Recently, I saw a large pile of sturdy vinyl signs from a big-box store’s sale, and I wished I knew how to upcycle them into messenger bags or wallets. At the very least, they would have made a great floor-covering for under the high chair, but when I went back, someone had snapped them all up.

That’s just my version. In Brooklyn, there’s an organization called Film Biz Recycling that collects castoffs from movie and TV sets. “There was an appalling amount of waste,” says Jane Borock, their director of marketing and outreach. “When you see a couch in a commercial, there’s probably 10 couches and 50 slipcovers in case anything gets dirty. And it was all going into landfills.”

Now, there’s a warehouse where trucks can drop off whatever random items would have been trashed. It all gets sorted and either donated (to homeless shelters, hospitals, animal-rescue organizations, etc.), sold, or rented out to other sets.

There are similar treasure troves in different cities. Los Angeles has reDiscover, where bins of fabric, linoleum scraps, leather odds-and-ends, tennis balls, carpet samples, and tiles are just some of the goodies on hand. Portland, Oregon has MECCA; Durham, North Carolina has The Scrap Exchange; Lansing, Michigan has The Creation Station; and Fort Lauderdale has Trash to Treasure. You can Google "creative reuse store" in your state or town and see what comes up.

It’s an idea whose time has come. Landfills are so 20th century. And while I’d love to go to a craft store like Michaels every week, my budget doesn’t allow such things anymore. Besides, it's just plain dumb to let useful supplies go to waste.

Would you buy other people's recycled trash for your home projects?

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