Reuse It or Lose It

The Hudson Valley Materials Exchange keeps tons of perfectly good products from filling local landfills. It saves consumers and municipalities millions of dollars. And it is struggling to stay afloat



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Spools of thread on a shelf at the Hudson Valley Materials Exchange warehouse
Photograph by Jessica Brown

Living from hand to mouth

As the amount of collected material increased, the organization quickly outgrew its space. Gruber incorporated HVME as a nonprofit in 1995 and moved to a 3,000-square-foot facility that September. At the grand opening, she took two body parts — a hand and a mouth — and made a necklace. “In my opening speech, I said, ‘HVME is living from hand to mouth,’ ” And that has been a constant problem.

The group began charging fees for some materials in 1996; today, nothing is free. In 1997, Gruber decided that HVME needed to become financially self-sufficient and not depend on government funding. The group began offering used and surplus building materials — windows, paint, insulation, and the like. Even more materials meant a need for even more space, and in 2001 HVME moved to a larger facility at Stewart Airport. That location worked very well, as school teachers, builders, artists and other individuals came from around the Northeast to sample their wares.

But in 2007 the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey took over Stewart, and threw HVME out. “Our building was directly across the street from the terminal. They tore it down to use as a parking lot,” Gruber says. She has not been able to find an affordable place to relocate. The materials are now in storage trailers. Both Gruber and the one other full-time employee have been laid off. “We completely closed for the winter,” she says. “It has been devastating.”

Cutting waste by 30 percent

Gruber remains determined to keep HVME alive. She just isn’t sure how. “We will reopen in March,” she vows. “We plan to use a bus and create a traveling store. We hope to get that on the road, literally and figuratively.” To do so, she applied for a U.S. Department of Agriculture Solid Waste Management grant of $63,000. “We hope to collaborate with the Town of New Paltz to expand and establish a fully fleshed-out regional reuse program,” she says. “I have been trying to retire for a long time, but I can’t yet. We have a lot of obligations, and I won’t just let it go. That’s not an option.”

Rolls of fabrics at the Hudson Valley Materials Exchange warehouseJessica Brown

HVME is the only organization between New York City and Rochester that does materials exchange for arts and education, Gruber claims. There are no programs like it in bordering states. “We could reduce the county waste stream by 30 percent,” she claims. “The state could save a lot of money if they funded more programs like ours.”

And we the public could purchase, say, a roll of awning fabric from a Middletown company, which wholesales for $20 a yard, for just $3. Or napkin paper from a firm in Newburgh for $1 a roll. “You can make your own napkins, towels, or packaging material,” Gruber says. “Restaurants use it for cleaning. And the art that comes from it is amazing. This stuff is expensive. Those are the kind of materials that come in regularly that could really be useful, and not just end up in the landfill.

“You have to come see what we have.”

The New Paltz Recycling Center’s dump is the temporary home of the Hudson Valley Materials Exchange. Visit www.hvmaterialsexchange.com for more information.

 

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