Mike Myers has a Santa Claus-inspired white beard about as long as a candy cane. It stands out against his deeply tanned skin.
Myers, 66, can move through a house, removing windows, doors, lighting fixtures, appliances and even hardwood floors or granite countertops. He works quickly, first taking the things he knows will be easy to sell later.
But he’s not a Grinch. He’s the founder of Bearded Brothers Solutions, a nonprofit that deconstructs buildings and salvages the materials to divert them from the landfill.
Myers sells most of the materials, which range from wall studs to kitchen sinks, through Craigslist.
He keeps the salvaged items in a 4,000-square-foot warehouse, which sounds large until you have to find room for things like the 350 doors he saved from a Gainesville housing project that had been condemned for “structural defects.”
Some of those gray metal doors now form a ceiling in part of the Repurpose Project’s building, 519 S. Main St. Myers is the cofounder of the Repurpose Project, a nonprofit that focuses on finding new uses, especially in art projects or crafts, for old items.
Most items are donated, but Bearded Brothers provides some materials to the Repurpose Project. Myers recently helped deconstruct a deck, and its wood will line a wall that will be used as an art gallery.
Myers said he has been recycling for more than 40 years, but that most of his generation — the Baby Boomers — really didn’t understand the significance of the waste piling up in landfills.
Through his work, he is devoted to increasing the amount of recycling and reuse of items. Still, he hopes to do more by taking on additional recycling projects and by encouraging others to do more, too.
He said he and his friends first started recycling by collecting bottles and other objects in their small Arkansas town and driving to larger cities to turn them in for money. Recycling was new then, and their efforts weren’t that profitable, but the concept stuck.
He got involved with deconstructing buildings and started salvaging parts of them, but he said he “just dabbled” in recycling until it took off in the last 10 years.
Recycling has been gaining momentum, and a recent report by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection shows that Alachua County had the highest recycling rate in Florida in 2011 — about 50 percent. It marked the second year Alachua earned the top spot.
According to the department’s Solid Waste Management in Florida 2011 Annual Report, Alachua County recycled 205,070 tons in 2011. That leaves more than 200,000 tons that weren’t recycled, but Myers is optimistic about the progress.
“This is new territory,” Myers said. “It has always just been dumped in a hole.”
At the Repurpose Project, soda can tabs are made into earrings. So are cassette tapes and buttons and microchips. Todd Bicker makes picture and mirror frames out of scrap wood and old frames. Screw-on lids, film cases and corks are stored in orderly jars on crowded shelves until they find their place in someone’s artwork.
But as successful as Alachua County has been in recycling, it still needs to reach a 75 percent recycling rate by 2020, as mandated by the Florida legislature.
Curbside collection of recyclables began in 1989, according to the Alachua County Public Works website. It took 22 years to get the recycling rate to almost 50 percent. Momentum has gained, but it needs to be sustained to meet the legislature’s goal.
Sean McLendon, sustainability program manager for Alachua County’s Office of Sustainability, said he thinks the recycling movement is just getting started in Alachua.
“The enthusiasm that we’ve seen from people that see the value in these materials continues to grow,” he said. “It should be very encouraging to everyone.”
McLendon, who became interested in recycling after a research project he worked on as a student at the University of Florida, said the county will continue its educational efforts and will work on expanding its recycling abilities.
Meanwhile, Myers is continuing to find more ways to help the cause.
Bearded Brothers recently joined five other recycling-oriented companies to create a group they call the Sustainable Waste Stream Solutions Team. The team plans to work together to tackle a large-scale recycling project. It hasn’t decided upon anything yet, though.
“It’s an infant right now,” Myers said.
Members of the group are Bearded Brothers Solutions, Gainesville Compost, Tropical Recycling, Recycling Services of America, Wood Resource Recovery and Technology Conservation Group.
Rod Ingram, owner of Recycling Services of America, said the group formed when UF began looking for a company to handle all of its recycling. Ingram’s company does office paper recycling for the university, and he didn’t want to lose their business, but he couldn’t imagine how a single local company would be able to handle all of its recycling.
He said he started contacting other local companies, and they realized they would work well as a group and would be able to offer a comprehensive service.
“By forming this, there’s a lot that we can handle that we couldn’t handle individually,” Ingram said. “We challenge each other to go a step further.”
They don’t know yet whether they will get the contract with UF, but they plan to keep working together either way.
The business opportunities should be there. Ingram said business, at least for his paper recycling company, has generally improved steadily over the years.
The Repurpose Project has done well since it opened about a year ago, although it faces the challenge of needing to raise enough money to purchase a new building. The city has plans to build a fire station that would include the project’s current property.
Bearded Brothers, on the other hand, has seen work slowed for several years. Myers said that, with the struggling housing market, developers have been less active and so fewer buildings have needed to be deconstructed.
“But, in a way, that’s good because it’s not going into landfills,” Myers said.