ReUse Corridor Breathes Life into Central Appalachia

Central Appalachia still struggles to recover from blows incurred through the decline of the coal mining industry: unemployment, poverty, and weakened infrastructure—including an inefficient waste management system. An initiative called ReUse Corridor has joined multiple stakeholders in that region to address these issues, and to do so by jumpstarting a circular economy.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

January 23, 2023

5 Min Read
Cris Ritchie Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

Central Appalachia still struggles to recover from blows incurred through the decline of the coal mining industry: unemployment, poverty, and weakened infrastructure—including an inefficient waste management system. An initiative called ReUse Corridor has joined multiple stakeholders in that region to address these issues, and to do so by jumpstarting a circular economy. Launched by Coalfield Development, a workforce training and development organization, the Corridor works to generate new jobs and support existing businesses in reuse, recycling, and upcycling.

Partners are collectors, recyclers, processors, and solid waste authorities. They are material generators and material users, whether businesses, craftspeople, manufacturers, or colleges, spread across several states.  

“These stakeholders are like dots on a map, and we launched the ReUse Corridor to connect those dots—to facilitate collaboration, sharing of resources and information and logistics in order to grow a market. We support the ‘doers’ who are having an impact in their communities, allowing them to collect items that may otherwise be landfill destined,” says Baleigh Epperly, Coalfield Development’s ReUse Corridor manager.  

Participants are linked by a network of major roads: Highway 52, aka “King Coal Highway,” State Route 2, and Interstate 64, facilitating logistics in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
The projects are quite varied, as are the people they reach and the ways they touch them.  Deconstructors of dilapidated properties send would-be waste to a West Virginia woodworking shop where people with barriers to employment are trained in upcycling the recovered materials. Sawdust produced at the shop will soon go Marshall University to be fed into the university’s compost operation.  

Not far from there, a Goodwill store picks up large volumes of boxes from a factory that houses social enterprises. Goodwill gets packaging and shipping materials while supporting the factory’s work to provide citizens gainful employment.

And in Ohio, Lawrence-Scioto County Solid Waste District channels mattresses and other hard-to-recycle materials to Corridor partners who typically aggregate and market them for recycling or to be sold as is.

Rural Action is a core partner in the ReUse Corridor. The nonprofit has long been engaged in zero waste work, convening community stakeholders to plan for and achieve better recovery of materials.

The Appalachian Ohio-based nonprofit began working with Coalfield Development in this recovery space, and later helped Coalfield create the far-reaching network that exists today whereby they work with more materials types, and in more communities than in their earliest days as partners.

Ohio, especially the eastern portion, is one of the largest importers of trash in the country, taking in materials mainly from New York, New Jersey, and New England.

Ed Newman, Rural Action Zero Waste director, refers to the region as a sacrifice area for disposal, but at the same time, he says, it is “resource rich” in that volumes of the material coming into Ohio can be turned into commodities rather than be buried or burned.

“By setting up materials management systems as alternatives to disposal we are reducing demand on natural resources locally and regionally. We are creating jobs and a tax base, circulating money in our communities rather than exporting jobs and materials,” Newman says.

The ReUse Corridor provides greater opportunity for Rural Action to support small local businesses, including the few hauling companies that are still around—some have been bought by large waste companies.

“It’s not an easy business. We are trying to make it easier for Mom and Pop shops to survive, as well as trying to create new businesses rather than have a few monopolies handle our materials management, which is a loss to our community,” Newman says.

His organization works with ReUse Corridor participant Athens-Hocking Recycling, which runs a materials recovery facility and compost operation. Rural Action promotes its recycling neighbor’s services to businesses and communities; has assisted the company in securing a grant for equipment; and is now trying to help it grow its compost operation, which collects and processes commercial and residential food that goes into a soil amendment. Athens-Hocking helps the region recover material, ultimately supporting Rural Action in its work.

Now the two entities are working to determine how they could develop a center for hard-to-recycle materials (CHaRM) on an envisioned materials management campus at or near Athens-Hocking’s existing site. The plan is to add a building to aggregate and store materials to ship to markets, an anaerobic digester, and an incubator where businesses could utilize collected materials to benefit Southeast Ohio while creating a model for other Corridor members to replicate.

Ashland, KY nonprofit Neighbors Helping Neighbors owns a large facility that hosts other nonprofit organizations; collectively these entities serve clients who live in poverty.

ReUse Corridor partners send used clothes to “Neighbors,” who hires people it serves to sort and bale them. The highest quality clothing is given out free to Neighbors Helping Neighbors’ clients. The remaining textiles are transported to vendors and shred into rags or reused in other ways. 

“In 2022 the program recovered over 130,000 pounds of clothing that would have ended up in a local landfill [some sent by Corridor partners]. But the greatest benefit to our organization of partnering in the ReUse Corridor is the opportunity to hire our clients and give them not only employment, but a program which provides them financial counseling,  mentorships, and soft skill development,” says Jeremy Holbrook, director of Neighbors Helping Neighbors.

“As much as we care about recycled clothing, we prioritize the development of people into the workforce,” he says.

Coalfield Development is beginning to plan for a future hub for the ReUse Corridor, a recovery park with similar features as the CHARM that Rural Action and Athens-Hocking are working on in Ohio. The hub will be built on a revitalized brownfield, with monies awarded by the Economic Development Association (EDA).


Says Epperly: “The ReUse Corridor will only continue to grow as we foster new partnerships and expand our engagement and impact in the Central Appalachian region.”

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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