A massive mural adorns the outside wall of the former Cascade Drycleaners in Bellingham. While paintings of a salmon surrounded by Americans Indians, river otters and trees growing in test tubes seem to scream “waste not, want not,” the inside of the building is a different story entirely. Wasted remains of the out-of-business cleaning company still litter the space, remnants that could be split between a junkyard and an antique store.
Dave Bennink sees this relic differently. Ever since Bennink began his reuse career as the first employee at Bellingham’s RE Store, he has been salvaging parts of old buildings.
Bennink grew up in Whatcom County between Bellingham and Mount Baker. As a youth, he remembers watching his parents and other community member’s stand up to a company that was illegally dumping waste into Anderson Creek, which ran through the community. When a Huxley professor came to speak to his class at Mount Baker High School about how they could turn projects like saving Anderson Creek into a career, Bennink jumped at the chance.
Dave attended Huxley from 1991 to 1994, majoring in environmental science with a minor in environmental policy and assessment. For his internship, he was hired on as the RE Store’s first employee. He worked with his manager to create the framework for business.
“I learned how to work at Mount Baker High School,” Bennink said. “But I learned about the environment and so on at Huxley. So I put the two together so I could be a hardworking environmentalist.”
Re-Use Consulting, Bennink’s current company, is based on the values he adopted at the RE Store. He teaches deconstruction companies how to efficiently deconstruct a house or building instead of demolishing it. Bennink said he saves around 75 percent of the buildings’ remnants from the landfill. Even while competing with demolition, which is cheaper and less time intensive, the deconstruction industry is growing. Bennink hopes eventually it will overtake demolition, meaning over 50 percent of U.S. buildings would be deconstructed instead of demolished.
Bennink’s idea has taken off. In 2009 he was awarded the National Building Deconstructor of the Year Award. He has worked with the Olympic Committee in Chicago to deconstruct some buildings to build what the city hoped would be the next Olympic Village. Bennink is also bidding on a project that would train ex-offenders to deconstruct houses, recycling both materials and lives.