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Updated 10:00 AM April 17, 2006




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Good as new: Recyclers take cue from efforts to reuse

Pool cues from the Michigan Union Billiards Room get a second life as handrails for elderly Detroiters, and canvas banners that once carried messages above the Diag make great bedrolls for the homeless, thanks to some creative thinking by campus advocates of reuse and recycling.
Michigan Union Billiards Room Assistant Manager Shawn Mincer helped a group of architecture students collect nearly 30 broken pool cues to use as handrails for elderly people in Detroit. (Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

At the Michigan Union Billiards Room, Assistant Manager Shawn Mincer says his crew scraps about 75 pool cues a year at a cost of approximately $6 per stick. The cues have missing tips, are cracked or otherwise are not suitable for pool players.

Ryan Schirmang, a graduate student in architecture, and members of his class group approached Mincer in the Billiards Room after they were assigned a class project to construct an access ramp for elderly Detroit citizens out of scavenged materials.

"I was shooting pool after I received the assignment brief and began to wonder why I couldn't find old pool cues to serve as handrails," Schirmang says. "They are designed with precisely the sensitivity to touch that all handrails should be."

Mincer and Betsy Sundholm, manager of Michigan Union Recreation and the Student Organization Resource Center (The SORC), eagerly joined forces with Schirmang's team.

"It was great to have this project come up because reusing the pool cues has been a tough project," Mincer says. "Reuse makes use of the product in close to its original form, often in new and creative ways, so it uses minimum energy while keeping the item out of the waste stream. It is a very exciting aspect of this project."

The Billiards Room has donated 35 pool cues, of which Schirmang and his group selected 28 of the best ones for the project. "This project is an example of how students, staff, departments, faculty and the community can come together to work on community-based projects and initiatives," Mincer says.

"Many things are accomplished by this product," Mincer adds. "People who need handrails get handrails. People are made aware of creative ways to reuse and recycle used products. People begin to reconceptualize waste as a resource."

Another recycling effort underway at the Union involves painted posters and banners hung in the Diag and what happens to them after they're taken down. More than 60 Diag board locations and 11 banner locations around campus change almost weekly during the fall and winter semesters and monthly in the spring and summer.

"We discard them only after they have been used twice or more," Sundholm says. "Some student organizations collect their canvases and banners after they come down and use them again the following year. Canvases that are not claimed by the original group are put up for sale as 'used' in a supply closet, Sundholm adds. Groups can buy them for a discount price.

Most of the canvases that have been used on both sides or that have been damaged by weather would end up as waste, were it not for an idea from Lisa Bartlett.

Bartlett, a senior graphic artist for University Unions, came up with the idea of taking used Diag boards and banners and donating them to local shelters to make bedrolls.

In addition, Bartlett took used canvases to a camp for children to use to keep their sleeping bags dry on the ground, allowing them to sleep under the stars for the first time.

"Always think outside the box," Sundholm says. "Every time you approach a trash can with something in your hand to throw away, stop for a second and think: is there a better way?"

Sundholm and her staff at The SORC have gotten into the act. They offer a balloon business, which utilizes used yogurt and cottage cheese containers, first cleaned in the dishwasher, then filled with dry wall repair mud and covered in shiny foil to create balloon anchors.

"We re-wrap these anchors and use them over and over again, so we drastically cut down on the amount of excess that goes to the landfill," Sundholm says.

In addition, Sundholm and the students she supervises rely on donated envelopes to make bank deposits at the end of every shift in the Billiards Room. Sundholm says The SORC received a surplus of envelopes about 10 years ago when the University changed its area code from (313) to (734). It has lasted through 2006, but the supply is dwindling.

"But a new box always seems to show up just when we need it," she says.

To donate envelopes or to share creative recycling suggestions, e-mail

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