Ecoworks’ Sherill Baldwin, creating beginnings out of ends.
By Taylor Nicole Richards
Reusing and recycling are two very different things when it comes to waste management. Recycling is taking used material, breaking it down, and creating something useable again. Reusing is taking that item, whatever it is, and re-purposing it in its original condition. Reuse instead of recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions and holds the potential to support the local economy.
This is a philosophy that Sherill Baldwin lives by that spawned the creation of her store and creative reuse center, Ecoworks Inc. on State Street. Baldwin and her team take manufacturers scrap, samples from architects, and material by-products from various businesses and sell it at low prices. There is also a gift and consignment shop in the front that sells work from local artists.
In the beginning, Ecoworks discovered many businesses that saw the reuse value of their waste, but didn’t want to deal with artists constantly knocking on their door or the remorse of throwing it all away. Now her company serves as the middleman.
“We’re looking at it from a perspective of trying to reduce waste but also giving access to people that wouldn’t normally have access,” said Baldwin. “These businesses and manufacturers see us providing a value where they don’t have to coordinate meeting with a lot of people. We just take all their stuff.”
The materials that Ecoworks sells are for anyone to re-purpose, but Baldwin saw the need for low-cost art supplies and scraps for teachers and artists. Through her frequent interaction with school teachers, she noticed them spending hundreds of dollars yearly of their own money on materials to supplement their school supplies.
“In addition to surplus and things that businesses throw away that have value to a lot of artists, school teachers are always looking for low-cost supplies,” said Baldwin. “They are committed to the work they do. You find that art teachers, as well as others, are looking for creative ways to engage students and will spend more.”
All members volunteer their time to run the shop through their shared passion for sustainability. The store is open two days a week and sees teachers and artists from all around Connecticut making the time to stock up. They also hold craft workshops led by local artists that utilize their materials. Every month, Ecoworks opens shop apart from regular business hours to participate in On 9 New Haven events, a collaborative open-house evening in 9th Square.
Instead of just providing a service, Ecoworks has a core mission of using creativity and fun as a means of making the planet a better place.
“We find that when people engage in a fun way, they’re more likely to practice new behavior. It’s one thing if a business is trying to lessen their carbon footprint, but we’re really trying to recognize the value in materials,” said Baldwin. “All the stuff in the store was, at one point, destined for disposal. Instead of it going to a local waste energy facility, it is in fact getting in the hands of others that are trying to use it.”