The Reclaimed Revolution: How Reclaimed Materials Business Owners are Slowly Saving the World

Business owners Jacob and Lyss say they are salvaging the world, piece by piece, through iReclaimed, their reclaimed materials furniture business. The husband-and-wife team from Michigan handcraft products out of reclaimed wood they’ve salvaged and then add repurposed industrial black iron pipe and other salvaged material such as reclaimed wood crates or vintage hardware. The result? Beautifully-crafted pieces that give usable materials new life while conserving natural resources.

The concept of transforming trash into treasure is a growing trend for small businesses. Known as “upcycling,” the idea is to source reclaimed or unwanted materials destined for the dump and create something new, such as beautiful pieces of art, unique furniture, home décor elements or useful items.

Repurposing the old for something fresh and different isn’t new, but popular sites such as Etsy and ArtFire have provided a more visible platform in the marketplace for artists and business owners who use reclaimed materials to present their products.

Upcycling is different than recycling, in which a product is broken down into various parts and reconfigured into new products. Often the distinction between the two is that upcycling creates new materials or products of higher quality or environmental value than recycling. Confused? Hipcycle offers a nice overview of upcycling and how it differs from general recycling and reuse.

Lyss and Jacob started their reclaiming business because they were frustrated with the poor quality of commercially-available, mass-produced furniture they found. “Most of the offerings we saw, and often purchased, were poorly made and had very short consumer life cycles. We were saddened and disturbed to see that most of these products were discarded and deposited in landfills a few months, or at most a few years, after purchase.” Lyss said they knew there was a more economical and sustainable option, so they set out to discover it.

“After repurposing a few pallets and some scrap lumber into a reclaimed wood headboard, we were inspired to branch out into other product categories and iReclaimed was born. It is our goal to create products that are accessible, functional, artful and sustainable.”

History Lives on With Reclaimed Resources

Craftsman Austin Horning of Pennsylvania started his business Reclaimed Art in 2012, after having success building a TV cabinet from an old barn door salvaged from a local barn built in 1830. Because he grew up on a farm, he said he was taught at an early age to reuse anything he could, and over the years he saved a lot of material he uses to create custom furniture with pieces of history.

“I also buy materials from the local Historical Society, which is a non-profit organization where they have a ton of salvaged materials from older homes and barns for sale. I just recently have taken on a barn dismantling project where I plan to reuse all the material for my pieces.”

Jacob said reclaimed lumber, in particular, offers an opportunity to own a unique piece of history; he said much of the salvaged lumber iReclaimed uses is considered “old growth,” meaning it comes from lumber that may be as much as 300 years old and may have been harvested more than a century ago. In contrast, modern lumber typically comes from large tree farms where trees grow for a short period of time before being harvested and milled, he said.

“Lumber that was milled 100 to 150 years ago is often from trees that grew for centuries before being harvested,” Jacob said. “Reclaiming this lumber offers an opportunity, a second chance, to rewrite the past and bring a second (or third or fourth!) life to beautiful natural resources.”

Reclaiming Challenges

Sourcing and using reclaimed materials also pose challenges and require a significant time investment, Lyss says. Nails must be removed, rough saw marks smoothed, boards milled to usable dimensions and often lumber must be kiln-dried before it can be used.

“Selecting materials to use for furniture is a complicated process, far more so than going to a local lumber supplier and selecting choice materials. Each piece of lumber must be inspected for damage, cracks and other potential issues before it can be incorporated into a finished piece.”

Despite these challenges, Lyss and Jacob consider the value of reclaimed materials from an environmental and historical standpoint to be far greater than the initial time investment required.

Impact of Reclaimed Movement

While statistics are tough to find on exactly how much reclaimed and salvaged materials have been repurposed each year, it’s safe to say the impact of the reclaimed revolution is significant.

“We have salvaged and repurposed more than 5,000 board feet of lumber in the last 12 months, including lumber from dozens of commercial shipping pallets and several barns,” Lyss says. “Many of these materials would have simply been burned or discarded as waste, but because of our reclaiming efforts, this lumber was remade into more than 600 pieces of furniture.”

John Scimeca, owner of ReclaimedPalletTrend, says he’s also saved a large amount of wood from being thrown in dumpsters since beginning his business, both from his own job sites as an iron worker, and simply by asking other business owners if they have refuse they’d like to offload.

“I’ve connected with a few generous people in my search for decent, discarded wood.” John says, for example, a local grocery store gives him their pallets, and when another local business owner heard he was searching for wood to salvage, the owner took him to “a mountain of discarded boards and crates.”

“So many options and not enough time to save it all,” John says, “but I’m happy with the mass amounts I’ve saved from waste; I imagine people admiring something I’ve made from boards rescued from the garbage!” John creates signs, shelves, works of art and other custom pieces through his reclaimed business.

Lyss and Jacob urge people to consider buying reclaimed products. “If you are a consumer shopping for furniture, choose reclaimed! Not only are you helping to eliminate landfill and other environmental waste, but you are both renewing a part of the past and investing in the future.”

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