The old adage says that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, and that’s exactly what Sharon Cobb had in mind when she opened Trash, Inc., a new creative reuse center aimed at reducing landfill clutter.

From mannequin arms to architectural blueprints, Trash, Inc. specializes in cheap, reusable and salvaged art materials. Geared primarily towards artists, teachers and students on a budget, Trash, Inc. offers unique reclaimed materials for the creatively motivated and enviro-centric consumer.

“Basically I’ve reused items my whole life,” says Cobb. “My house is built with a lot of reclaimed items. Even with that being done, there was so much waste left over, and that was alarming to me. I just kept thinking, ‘what can I do to keep that out of the landfill?’”

After six years of pondering her trash crisis, Cobb took a Mountain Bizworks foundation class to help her formulate a business plan. That was when she heard about the Scrap Exchange in Durham and other centers in the U.S. that reclaim and resell items otherwise headed for the landfills. “When I took the Mountain Biz class I didn’t even know that other creative reuse places existed,” says Cobb. “[Executive director of the Scrap Exchange] Ann Woodward has been unbelievably supportive and a wealth of information. Without her we wouldn’t be as far we are now.”

On Aug. 1, Cobb and her three associates, Leslie Goodrich, Ann Ferguson and Neal Sorenson, opened Trash, Inc. to the public.

The 3,000 square-foot space, located at 95 Thompson Road, feels like a mash-up of an art supply store, a thrift store, a hardware store and a museum. Some might come here seeking creative inspiration, or seeking a specific item — like the artist who purchased 20 mannequin arms on opening day to use in a yard installation. A massive array of oddities (like old trophies, plastic flowers, photographic slides, maps and cigar boxes) are for sale, along with standard art supplies like paints, crayons, fabrics and assorted craft papers.

Trash, Inc. even has a gallery exhibiting work by artists who use at least 75 percent of reused materials in their work. Currently the wall hangings and earrings of Julia Masaoka — created out of bottle caps, aluminum can tabs and keys, are displayed along with paintings incorporating found materials created by Goodrich.

A children’s play station is set up for kids to build and create at will using the materials at hand, like stickers, confetti, paints, crayons, old cans and bottles. “For $5, they can make anything they want,” says Goodrich, pointing to a creature with wings constructed out of a plastic soda bottle.

For those looking to make home improvements, the warehouse holds an eclectic assortment of house paints, nails, wood panels, 2” x 4”s, vintage light fixtures, old doors, windows, mirrors and mouldings. All items are carefully organized and easy to find and examine before purchasing.

Fortunately, all the items stocked at Trash, Inc. are for sale at hugely reduced prices, which is a relief in today’s economy. Ferguson says this is why she hopes art teachers will begin coming to Trash, Inc. to buy classroom supplies. (A recent statistic indicates that the average high school teacher spends $623 each year on art materials. Fifteen percent of teachers say they spend at least $1,500 each year on supplies.)

To acquire start-up inventory, the four owners of Trash, Inc. donated their own salvageable items to the business. “I brought a lot of things in because I had so much!” says Cobb, “I even took an upright piano apart and brought parts of it in.” Using wood from an old bowling alley, church pews and other scraps, Cobb constructed the store’s check out counter, which she describes as a “Frankenstein counter.”

Local retro-crafter extraordinaire Suzie Millions contributed a hefty amount of vintage odds and ends to Trash, Inc., and the contents of retired architect John Rogers’s office were also donated. “We got hundreds of really cool blueprints, interesting material samples, a light table and a bunch of miniature building models,” says Cobb.

In addition to being a materials supplier and art gallery, Trash, Inc. plans to offer classes and educational outreach programs that help high-school teachers with lesson plans around reuse. “One of the greatest things is just coming in for inspiration,” says Molly Sprengelmeyer, a volunteer at Trash, Inc. “Ideas are free, the more you share the more you get.”

Trash, Inc. accepts donations and offers a 15 percent retail discount in exchange for items brought into the store. If requested, a tax-deductible cash donation can be made to the neighboring nonprofit organization, Brother Wolf, which provides sanctuary for stray and rescued animals.

Trash, Inc. is located at 95 Thompson Road in Biltmore. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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