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Posted on: Sunday, October 26, 2008

Reduce reuse recycle reap profit

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
Photos by GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

For some businesses, going “green” doesn’t mean just saving the planet. It can also mean putting a little extra green in their pockets.

In these tough times, many companies are looking for ways to increase sales while also being friendly to the environment. Business owners have set up recycling bins, retooled their electrical systems to cut back on power usage, and swapped out bottled water with filtered systems.

But some companies have taken the additional step of expanding their business by bringing in used items, refurbishing them, and selling them. The results are additional income for the company and fewer truckloads of bulky items that are dumped at the island’s already clogged landfills.

That’s the approach that at least two local businesses have taken in the past few months. Ross’ Appliance and Furniture and Pacific Store Planning recently expanded their warehouse and showroom space to accommodate the increase inventory of used items.

About four months ago, Ross’ launched the Green Bed Factory at its Kalihi store. The company, which has been restoring appliances and furniture since 1976, now trucks in used beds from hotels and other sources, inspects them and fixes them up for resale.

NOTHING WASTED

The beds that can’t be restored are stripped, and the wooden parts sent to a company in Kailua to be mulched and the metals to a recycling plant. The cloth portions of the bed are taken to the city’s H-Power plant.

Nothing is wasted, said Tyler Palmer, Ross’ owner.

“What we’re doing is keeping thousands of bed sets out of the landfill,” Palmer said.

By not sending box springs and mattresses to the landfill, Ross’ also was saving upward of $3,000 a month because of the special handling fees charged to dump the bulky items, Palmer said. He said he came up with the idea to refurbish the beds after realizing how much was being wasted.

“We pull these beds out of the hotels and half of them, because they’re stained and what not, had to go to the landfill,” Palmer said. “But the wood was good and the springs and other stuff were just getting ground up and we had to pay for that. Our landfill bill was huge.”

After researching the matter, Palmer said he went to Los Angeles and purchased about $30,000 in equipment needed to refurbish the beds and opened the Green Bed Factory at the existing Ross’ warehouse.

Jim Riggs, who runs the Green Bed Factory, said in the four months that the venture has been running he’s sold more than 400 beds and has prevented 3,000 to 4,000 mattresses from reaching the landfill.

The Green Bed Factory recently signed a contract to restore 700 beds from the Marine Corps base barracks in Kane’ohe. The Marines generate hundreds of used mattresses each year and recently found out about the Green Bed Factory.

Riggs said he’s pleased that large agencies as well as individuals are finding out about the business.

“The idea is catching on,” Riggs said. “We’re still young, but we’re growing.”

He said the most difficult thing to do is convince people that a remanufactured bed is clean and “just like a new bed.” He said most are 65 percent new, and 35 percent used.

“You can look at it, sleep on it, touch it and it’s just like a brand-new bed and it’s a third of the cost,” Riggs said.

Ross’ pays to remove items and sometimes is paid to haul the bulky items from hotels and other businesses. He did not want to reveal the profit margin on a used bed, but said the the company is making “quite a savings” on the landfill bill alone.

“It’s just an idea we came up with because there had to be a better way,” Riggs said. “There’s always a better way, so that’s what we’re doing.”

EVERYBODY WINS

For Til Mainenti, owner of Pacific Store Planning, he also saw the opportunity of making more green by becoming green. His company, which he started in 1977, supplies retailers with store fixtures and other hardware, and Mainenti also helps to plan and design stores.

Mainenti said he realized several months ago that as businesses shut down or remodeled, many of the fixtures in the stores were just being thrown away. He decided to take some of these items, such as racks, mannequins, counters, display tables and hangers and clean them up, rebox them and sell them.

He recently added 1,800 square feet of space to his Kaka’ako showroom to accommodate the new business, which he said has “taken off.” Mainenti said everybody wins because retailers can sell the used goods to him and he will sell the products to other retailers at a discounted price.

And, Mainenti said, the used items don’t wind up in the dump.

“It was a hassle for the retailers because they had to pay to get rid of it,” he said. “What we’re offering is a chance for them to avoid that and perhaps make some money off it by selling it to us.”

Mainenti also did not want to disclose the profit margin he makes on the used fixtures. He did say that he expects the used-fixture side of his business to eventually make up 50 percent of his sales.

City recycling coordinator Suzanne Jones applauded the efforts of businesses such as Ross’ and Pacific Store Planning to steer tons of reusable material from the landfills, and at the same time make a profit. Jones said many business owners are realizing the benefits of restoring and reselling large items.

“Businesses are looking at how they can be more resourceful, how they can be more waste-wise,” Jones said. “They’re seeing that disposal costs them, and by reducing waste through recycling, there’s an economic as well as an environmental benefit. I think businesses also are seeing that their customers are very interested in the businesses that they are doing business with being green.”

Jones said the city is encouraging more companies as well as individuals to consider recycling before throwing reusable items away. For more information on recycling and companies that accept used items visit www.opala.org.

NOT FOR PROFIT, TOO

For businesses like Re-use Hawaii, it’s all about protecting the environment. The nonprofit company started in 2007 to deconstruct a home, building or other structure and recycle as much of the material as possible.

Selina Tarantino, co-founder of the company, said about 75 percent of a home, primarily the lumber, can be saved and reused. She said between 10 and 15 percent can be recycled, while about 5 to 10 percent of the material from a home winds up in the landfill.

The wood that is salvaged is as good as new, she said, but is sold for 60 to 80 percent less than new lumber. Tarantino said it costs a little more to deconstruct a home than to demolish it, but she said owners who go the deconstructing route can receive a tax credit because her company is a nonprofit organization.

She said business has been brisk and the concept is growing in popularity. Re-Use Hawaii has a 14,000-square-foot outdoor lot where it sells the lumber, but plans to lease a 12,000-square-foot covered warehouse in December.

“So more people will know about deconstruction and we’ll offer even more material for sale,” Tarantino said. “We want to create more awareness, ‘This is what you can do and you don’t have to throw everything away.’ Hopefully people are getting excited about it and feeling empowered about it.”

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.


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Julie Acoba sews together panel tops for used beds that will be remanufactured at the Green Bed Factory at Ross’ Appliance and Furniture’s Kalihi store.

Photos by GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Jim Riggs shows off the wares at Green Bed Factory, which has sold more than 400 refurbished beds in its four months.

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The Green Bed Factory trucks in beds from hotels and other sources and either restores them or recycles the byproducts

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Jim Riggs carries a bed to the “hog rigging” table, where the bed sides get put together at the Green Bed Factory.

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