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Re-Use-It philosophy bound for Beijing



It’s a joy, says Greg McDonnell, to thumb through rows of used CDs and happen upon some forgotten title from the days of yore. Not only is there the score to be stoked on, but so too is there a vicarious delight in buying something already owned.

“It’s almost a tribal thing,” he says. “You look at the constant success of antique stores. It’s got the imprint of a previous owner, some history. If you can breathe new life into it, then that’s great.”

McDonnell is the executive director of the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS), which operates the Re-Use-It Centre in Function Junction. The centre’s backbone is a system called cyclic economics, basically the practice of taking discarded goods and reintroducing them to the marketplace. The centre has done this with considerable success, curbing over 200,000 tonnes of waste from the landfill and pouring the proceeds into social programming. As a key player in its success, McDonnell will be joining the Whistler Forum on its September trip to Beijing, where he’ll give a talk about the cyclic economy to assembled delegates.

“It’s a three-legged stool,” he says, “Environmental, economic and social. If you’re missing one leg, the stool bends over.

“We’re a world of consumers, and North America is leading the charge. The Re-Use-It Centre is an opportunity to not be that much of a consumer, to recycle things and put them back into the economy.”

The timing couldn’t be better. At the end of October, in the city of Qindao, the First China International Cyclic Economy Expo 2008 is set to unfold over a few days.

McDonnell hopes his audience will include people planning to attend that conference.

“We’ve got an example of the three-legged stool,” he says. “We’ve got this little in-town or in-corridor success story of what a cyclic economy could look like. And that’s really the brass tacks here.”

But, he says, his speech in Beijing is really about Whistler. It’s the local media attention he wants, a spotlight that helps him affect change at the backyard level.

“With a little micro adjustment to the economy, the macro fallout is huge. So we’re trying to make micro changes with macro effects.”

In pursuit of those impacts, WCSS has opened a virtual Re-Build-It Centre, which seeks to take discarded building materials and bring them back to life. Plans to bring the centre from cyberspace to the real world are underway.

WCSS pumps money from the Re-Use-It Centre into a plethora of social programming, whether it be the food bank or interim housing.

Whistler Forum is preparing a trip to Beijing and Shanghai starting Sept. 6. The first leg of the trip unfolds in Beijing under the auspices of the Harmony Project. There will be two key days of discussions, one focused on access for the disabled and the second on sustainability.