Chicago Group Finds New Purposes For the City’s Old Office Furniture

Some years back, I had a rickety old bookshelf. It was poorly constructed and listed badly to the left. Reluctantly, I took it out to the sidewalk for the trash guys but they never got the chance. It was gone within an hour.

Whoever took that bookshelf saw it as a treasure or perhaps had the carpentry skills I lacked to fix it up. I unwittingly participated in an age-old and simple form of recycling that occurs daily in neighborhoods across the country.

For businesses that need to dispose of dozens or hundreds of desks, chairs and conference room tables, hauling them to the curb is not an option. Traditionally, the easy choice has been to dump the outdated and unwanted office furniture in a landfill.

Becky Hammer

Becky Hammer

Rose Tourje figured there had to be a better way. The founder of Asset Network for Education Worldwide (ANEW), Tourje explained the problem last week at a presentation sponsored by Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects and hosted by Teknion—an ANEW partner—at the Merchandise Mart.

“Half of all the waste going into landfills—four billion pounds per year—comes from the construction industry,” Tourje said.

ANEW was born out of the need for a recycling program to reduce that waste. It collects and repurposes furniture, fixtures and equipment. ANEW takes those items from businesses that want to get rid of them, fixes the items up, and gets them to deserving organizations that operate on a shoestring budget.

Becky Hammer, director of donor and recipient relations for ANEW, told the A.I.A. members that the group communicates with potential donors and recipients strictly by word-of-mouth.

“We find the non-profit agencies that need furniture and get it to them, and we help extend the lifecycle of surplus items, through resale, repurpose or recycling,” Hammer said, explaining that the benefits are economic, social and environmental.

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at

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