From brushes to human teeth to go, WasteShed has everything eco-friendly creatives need for cheap

By Amina Sergazina, Staff Reporter

A volunteer helps sort and organize different fabrics and materials that arrive at the WasteShed. K’Von Jackson

A collection of trophies, italic practice notebooks, vintage sewing patterns, a coffin from a TV set and even a box of 32 human teeth are just some of the products donated to the WasteShed, along with regular art supplies like brushes and canvases.

The WasteShed is a nonprofit art center, located at 2842 W. Chicago Ave., where art supplies that would have been thrown away can be reused and repurposed for a cheaper price than bigger stores. People can also visit the second store in Evanston, located at 1245 Hartrey Ave.

Ann Panopio works in design and construction oversight for nonprofits. While looking at cardboard boxes at home, they decided to make a cat tunnel for their three cats Zuko, Harris and Moe. They visited the WasteShed for inspiration and left with a glue gun and tape.

“I like that you don’t know what you’re going to find,” Panopio said. “I was very intrigued because they have these drafting pens that you have to break down and clean, that I haven’t seen in a long time … it gets your creativity going.”

Shelves and racks are filled with various knickknacks and art supplies for people to choose from. K’Von Jackson

Tia Borg, a senior visual critical studies student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, works part-time at the Chicago location of the WasteShed as an associate. She said she loves working there because it is eco-friendly and a more casual work environment.

“Everyone here is really friendly and approachable,” Borg said. “We don’t have a culture of ‘we need to be making profit all the time … you can only take a break when you have your break, you can’t stop and talk to someone.’”

Eleanor Ray, founder and executive director of the WasteShed, is a multimedia artist from Boston who worked at a creative resource center in Portland, Oregon. After moving to Chicago in 2014, she couldn’t find a similar center and decided to open the WasteShed on her own.

The WasteShed offers a chance for anyone to recycle discarded miscellaneous materials and give them new life. K’Von Jackson

Ray said reusing objects is inevitable because of the climate emergency and that it is better to set up systems like the WasteShed right now instead of being forced to in the future.

“Running a nonprofit is incredibly hard,” Ray said. “It’s extremely labor-intensive to sort through, identify and price tens of thousands of pounds of miscellaneous materials every year.”

The environment is not the WasteShed’s only priority. On average teachers spend $479 out of pocket for art supplies for students, according to the National Education Association. The WasteShed has “Free for Teachers” and “Free for All” sections as well as a 25% educator discount with a school ID.

The WasteShed offers workshops to people who want to learn more about art. They also hold an annual “trashion” show where participants make clothes out of the trash for a chance to win a monetary prize. The WasteShed is always looking for volunteers who can help sort the donations and offers $1 per hour in store credit for any help offered.