When houses, churches, industrial buildings and other structures come down – or get gutted and renovated – much of the material ends up in landfills.
For the past 15 years, Milwaukee nonprofit, WasteCap Resource Solutions has been working to not only keep building materials out of the dump, but also to conserve resources by reusing materials and, at the same time, provide employment and job training to Milwaukee residents.
"We’re working with the City of Milwaukee on the foreclosed homes and buildings that are being razed," says executive director Joe Liebau, "so we’re trying to save as many materials as possible and a big part of what they want and what we want is to be able to put people to work, so we're using guys from the Milwaukee Community Service Corps and Northcott Neighborhood House. We've been building (capacity) ourselves, as well, to keep these materials out of landfills."
WasteCap has provided more than 1,000 work hours so far this year to 22 Residential Preference Program trainees.
Since its inception, WasteCap estimates it has diverted more than 1,236,000 pounds of demolition waste and construction materials from landfills, saving the equivalent of 235,451 trees via recycling of wood and cardboard.
As part of its growth, WasteCap has relocated to 2123 W. Michigan St., where it now has a warehouse that can allow it to store materials, which means it can prevent more salvageable building materials from ending up as landfill.
The space also allows the nonprofit to open its warehouse to the public, which it will do beginning Wednesday, July 15.
The warehouse will be open Wednesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturdays, from 10 to 2.
In it, you’ll find scads of lumber, century-old barn doors, gorgeous stained glass windows, ornately carved moldings and other woodwork, cabinetry, vintage doorknobs, old beer advertising signs rescued from taverns, light fixtures, heating vents, windows, hardwood flooring and more.
Donations will be accepted by appointment only.
"We do bricks, we do a lot of structural lumber," says Liebau. "One of the things you'll find with a lot of the City of Milwaukee foreclosed homes that we work on, especially if we deconstruct them fully, is it's a lot of old growth lumber: 2x4s, 2x6s.
"Some other of the larger projects are gaining popularity, like barn deconstructions, things that just aren't usable for the owners any more but are still high value for reuse by architecture firms, things of that nature, and more and more churches seem to be coming down. They just haven't been used anymore. It's what it is, but there are great materials in them."
I asked Liebau if it’s heartbreaking sometimes to see the kinds of structures and the kinds of craftsmanship that are being pulled down.
"I've walked through so many cool buildings, and it's so sad to see so many of them go," Liebau says. "I talk to a lot of people about this, and they say, ‘we don't like what you're doing.’ The thing that we try to remind them is that if we don't do what we do in those buildings, it's all going to be crushed and thrown in the landfill. We're not going in trying to convince them to take their barn down, or their church down. No, they're saying to us, ‘this is getting demoed and either you can come in and save a few things or it's going to landfills.’"
But WasteCap does keep a wish list for customers, so that if they run across something you’re looking for during a demolition, they can grab it because they know there is a demand for it.
"The point of that we try to make is that we're not trying to convince people to take stuff out," Liebau says. "We say, ‘when we find it, if we're lucky enough to come across it, we'll get it to you.’"
Liebau says that WasteCap doesn’t view outlets like Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore as competition, but rather more like fellow travelers.
"We've worked closely with them on a number of things, and we tend to pass things back and forth. As you walk through here, you'll notice that we don't have appliances and things of that nature. We're not really looking to try to take in large amounts of those things but rather try to focus in on the materials and the items out there that are going to be missed out on or not have an opportunity to save. There is a lot that just isn't captured. That's what we want to focus on."
Monday night, July 13, the WasteCap warehouse hosts preview party and fundraiser for Historic Milwaukee Inc. from 5 to 7 p.m. with snacks and refreshments. Tickets are $20, $10 for HMI members, and may be purchased online.
Mayor Tom Barrett and at least three Common Council members are expected to hold at press conference at WasteCap on Tuesday, July 14 at 9 a.m., followed by a visit to a deconstruction site.
There will also be an opening week sale with a 20% percent discount on Wednesday, 30% off on Thursday, 40% percent off on Friday and 50% percent off on Saturday.
"Our mission as a non-profit is to focus in on the most sustainable way of doing things," says Liebau, "and we want something that folks are going to put back into their homes that keeps the quality and keeps the story of Milwaukee going forward, because 120 years ago they were building gorgeous, gorgeous homes and so few of them are still around. If we're able to just take a few pieces and remember that story, that's something that we hope to be a part of."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.