John Bourget of Bourget Brothers Building Materials on Thursday inspects bricks he hopes to resell. The bricks come from a building at the corner of Colorado Avenue and 17th Street that was razed to make way for a parking lot adjacent to a future station for the Expo Light Rail line. The line is expected to reach Santa Monica in 2015. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

MID CITY — Although the Bourget Brothers Building Materials and Hastings Plastics have been neighbors for a number of years, it wasn’t until demolition teams rolled into the Hastings lot Monday that John Bourget realized the entire building was made of brick obscured by thick plaster.

Bright, red brick.

“We’re begging for the brick on that construction right now,” Bourget said. He grabbed a brick off of the outer wall facing 17th Street and ground white lime off of it, exposing the name “Simons” underneath.

People prefer bricks with a heightened red color and a name because it gives them a sense of uniqueness, Bourget said.

“It’s like a diamond merchant,” Bourget said of his brick selection process. “He studies your diamond, sees the purity of it, the clarity and shine. It’s almost that way.”

Bourget’s scavenging — to be formalized with the Exposition Light Rail Authority which is building a portion of the new light rail station at the site — is a form of creative reuse, an endeavor as profitable to Bourget as it is beneficial to the environment.

A reclaimed brick can be resold for almost the same price as a new one, somewhere between 80 cents and $1.25 in Bourget’s estimation, and it prevents a brand new structural brick from being used unnecessarily.

Reuse also means that little to no new resources will be put into transforming the brick into something else, be it gravel or road base.

A brick structure has to be carefully deconstructed, the bricks scrubbed clean of lime mortar holding them together and transported on pallets to their final sales destination, in this case only yards away.

They can be used for decorative walkways, fireplaces and other uses that please the eye but neither rely on structural integrity nor require much additional processing.

Key to repurposing old materials is the concept of “embodied energy,” or maintaining the resources needed to make the product in the first place, said Brenden McEneaney, a green building program advisor with the Office of Sustainability and the Environment.

“If you make a brick, clay had to get dug out of the ground and brought to a manufacturing facility kiln,” McEneaney said. “A lot of carbon was expended to make that product in the first place, and a lot would be expended to make a new product.”

Keeping the product whole means saving transportation impacts and other resources like water and chemicals needed to transform the substance into something else.

That makes “reuse” second best in the environmentalist mantra “Reduce, reuse and recycle,” said Arthur Renaud, regional manager for Reuse People of America, a nonprofit clearing house for salvaged construction materials.

“That’s the order things should go,” Renaud said. “My job, and our mission, is to facilitate as much reuse as possible.”

The Reuse People make that happen by working with contractors to carefully take apart buildings to reclaim as much of the original materials as possible. They then transport them to local warehouses where they sell the products far below market costs.

What cannot be reused is then identified for recycling, which usually means taking the material and remanufacturing it into an entirely new product.

Building owners get tax incentives for donating the materials to the nonprofit, creating something akin to a thrift store for building materials.

Reuse People sees Santa Monica as a prime market because builders, homeowners and even other businesses have embraced the idea of adaptive reuse, Renaud said.

“People are forward thinking and understand the benefits of this within the project,” Renaud said. “It should be the first step if you’re considering being green on any level. It’s just the right way to start a project, as opposed to the alternative way.”

And it is a market.

According to statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency, the reuse and recycling industry is competitive with other major industries like various kinds of manufacturing and insurance, both in terms of the number of jobs it creates and the average wages it provides.

It’s considerably better than trash — diplomatically called “waste management” — because it adds value to the materials.

Reuse alone employs nearly 170,000 workers at an annual payroll of $2.7 billion and generates $14.1 billion in revenue, according to the EPA.

Although reuse has gained traction and legitimacy as a business model in recent years, the Office of Sustainability and the Environment struggles with ways to incentivize the practice.

Santa Monica requires 65 percent of waste from construction and demolition sites to be diverted from landfills. That will move to 70 percent in the near future.

Reuse People’s program, “A Reuse Solution,” can get between 80 and 90 percent of the construction and demolition waste diverted, but City Hall faces the problem of accountability.

“It’s challenging for the city to verify if it was actually reused,” McEneaney said. “If it sits there for six months and no one buys it, what happens to that?”

Staff is working on ways to incorporate reuse into the diversion requirements, but it’s not quite there yet, McEneaney said.

In the meantime, both the Reuse People and Bourget will continue gathering up materials for the general public, be they doors, cabinets, or even old railroad ties.

Railroad ties?

“They use those for retaining walls,” said Miguel Amacario, of Bourget Brothers. “Malibu, and in the Topanga area, they use those a lot.”

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