Pictured: A used pallet upcycled into a wall mount for planters made of upcycled cans.  

by David Goldstein

A new grant opportunity offers California businesses, nonprofit organizations, government entities and Indian tribes an opportunity to fund new reuse projects. The minimum grant to be awarded by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) will be $300,000, and the maximum will be $500,000, with a total of $2 million awarded statewide this December. Applications are due September 10.

Four types of projects are listed as qualified:

  • Replacement of single-use containers with refillables, including but not limited to beverage, food or personal care product containers.
  • Replacement of single-use food serviceware (plates, cups, utensils) with durable alternatives that can be reused.
  • Replacement of single-use packaging with reusable packaging used to transport or distribute goods (e.g., crates, pallets).
  • Recovery of lumber, wood flooring or wood furniture from landfills or through deconstruction projects for reuse.

Oxnard Pallet Company, one local business considering applying for the grant, has a long history of innovative reuse and has already won other funding from CalRecycle through the Ventura County Recycling Market Development Zone. Standard pallet reuse is business as usual for many companies and would probably not have a strong competitive chance to win a statewide grant opportunity such as this, but Beatrice Vasquez, owner of Oxnard Pallet Company and president of the Western Pallet Association, explains how her company is different, “We take off-spec and broken pallets, deconstruct them and reassemble them into 48-inch by 40-inch standard pallets, which are always in high demand.”  

In the past, retail was more clearly a target of the grant program, and a Reuse Grant was a major source of funding launching Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores in Ventura County. ReStores sell donated surplus and gently used home improvement items, raising money for Habitat’s mission of partnering with people in need to build decent affordable housing. After starting a ReStore in Ventura and moving the store while expanding in Oxnard, Habitat later developed a second ReStore in Simi Valley. 

Michelle Stevens, founder and owner of the Refill Shoppe, is also looking for ways to expand her reuse-based business. The Refill Shoppe helps people avoid single-use packaging by selling soaps, detergents, shaving lotions, skin creams and other items from bulk dispensers for refilling multi-use containers. 

Having reopened her store in July following a pandemic-related shut down, Stevens is interested in improving databases and doing outreach to bring in new customers for expansion of the Refill Shoppe’s “sudscription” program, through which customers ordering online receive spout pouches, which they drain into their reused container before mailing back the same pouch for a refill. 

In-store refills are also available at the Refill Shoppe, following assistance from the Womens’ Economic Ventures Thrive program, which helped Stevens change store layout and procedures to make shopping safer for customers and staff. Customers still bring in their own containers for refill and reuse, but now people sanitize the outside of their own containers with a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol solution and staff re-fill the containers. 

If you have an idea for a reuse business, then check out the grant opportunity at calrecycle.ca.gov/climate/grantsloans/reuse/fy201920.

David Goldstein is a Resource Management Analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency