California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Innovations Case Studies

Summary: Last Chance Mercantile

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The Last Chance Mercantile (Last Chance) is the place where reusable materials get their last chance before ending up in the Monterey Regional Landfill. Constructed as part of a major materials recovery facility (MRF) in 1996, the Last Chance has more than doubled the tonnage salvaged and increased revenues from sales of salvaged materials by almost 500 percent.

Materials salvaged and sold include:

  • Furniture
  • Lumber
  • Used building materials
  • Housewares
  • Garden items
  • Hardware/electrical
  • Clothing and textiles
  • Sporting goods
  • Reusable paint, cleaners, and pesticides
  • Automotive parts

Increasingly, communities working to meet the goals of the Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989 (AB 939, Sher, Chapter 1095, Statutes of 1989) are including such salvage operations as part of standard designs for transfer stations, MRFs, and landfills.

Program Characteristics

The Monterey Regional Waste Management District operates the Last Chance resale store as part of its regional environmental park in Marina, California. The environmental park includes a 315-acre landfill, a MRF, public recycling drop-off bins, a household hazardous waste (HHW) management facility, construction and demolition (C&D) recycling operations, composting facilities, a soils blending facility, a landfill gas recovery power plant, and a water pollution control facility.

Initially, staff salvaged materials from the face of the landfill and accumulated them until they had enough for an auction or a sale. The first year they auctioned off materials (hoping to get more money from some of the higher value products), but they found that the cost of the auctioneer was too expensive to do this on a regular basis. Instead, the district held quarterly sales, then monthly sales, then weekly sales, and then sales two days per week.

In 1991, the district dedicated a rustic shed in a hidden corner of the property to store these salvaged materials. The district named it the Last Chance Mercantile.

In 1996, the district upgraded its salvaging activities and the Last Chance. The district constructed a new 8,000-square-foot building and paved a two-acre yard for the Last Chance in October 1996.

Public self-haul vehicles and rolloff trucks now dump their materials on the MRF tipping floor. District staff members then salvage materials from the tipping floor. At the MRF district, staff members use a Caterpillar 315L track excavator with grapple attachment and RC60 CAT forklift, two 16-foot flatbed trailers, and a district pickup truck to sort and move salvaged materials around the property.  This is much easier, safer, and more thorough than the method of salvaging previously conducted at the face of the landfill.

The Last Chance includes a room for processing materials for resale; indoor space for displaying items such as books, clothing, sporting goods, household items, and furniture; office space for the store manager; and restrooms. Building materials, plumbing fixtures (e.g., tubs and sinks), patio furniture, and other items not affected by the weather are displayed outside.

Salvaging at the MRF guarantees a steady flow of resale items for the Last Chance store. During FY 1998–99, the Last Chance received 515 tons of salvaged materials diverted from the MRF. The public dropped off approximately 5,000 donations, diverting another 300 tons from the landfill.

Household hazardous wastes are also collected from the public at the permanent household hazardous waste management facility adjacent to the Last Chance. When the public shops at the Last Chance, they are able to obtain reusable paint, cleaners, and pesticides free of charge.

"Drop and Shop"

The district designed the new facilities to encourage people to “drop and shop” before going to the scales. Residents are encouraged to drop off their recyclable materials and reusable products before they pay tipping fees to dispose of wastes in the landfill. This creates a powerful economic incentive for residents to avoid their disposal fees by reuse and recycling.

Residents are also encouraged to obtain “bargains” at the Last Chance store, either as they arrive to drop off materials at the facility or before they leave the site.

A Community Wide Effort

The district has a comprehensive public education program for the Last Chance and other district activities. District staff produces numerous brochures and media campaigns throughout the year to inform the public about specific district programs and to share information on how to reduce, reuse, and recycle (e.g., recycling of phone books and Christmas trees). The general manager and other staff also join with two public education staff members to participate in local committees and community groups.

Creative Reuse

In celebration of America Recycles Week, the district sponsored the first recycled art contest in October 1998. Nine local artists participated in this creative endeavor. Their imaginative works are on display throughout the facility.

Award-Winning Advertisements

The district has created a popular television advertising campaign to increase the public’s awareness about its activities and to promote recycling and reuse. The campaign publicizes the wide array of programs and services offered, the site’s location, and items available at the Last Chance. These advertisements are designed to create a greater familiarity with district programs, increase facility usage, and heighten awareness of reuse and recycling issues and proper disposal of household hazardous waste.

Commitment to Reuse

One of the biggest roles of the Last Chance is demonstrating the district’s commitment to reuse. Because the public is very aware of the need to reduce, reuse and recycle, they very much appreciate the opportunity to reuse materials that would otherwise be landfilled. This has developed an enormous amount of goodwill for the district with area residents.

Costs, Economics, and Benefits

The Last Chance site—an 8,000-square-foot building and a paved two-acre yard—cost the district $739,000 to build. Financing of the building was included as part of the overall financing for the MRF, the landfill gas building, and other site improvements at the time.

The store's income fully covers the annual operating costs of the facility, including staff, materials, equipment, repairs and maintenance, and utilities. (This income does not cover financing.) The payroll budget of about $200,000 includes the Last Chance/HHW manager, assistant manager, ten sales clerks (hourly personnel), and related benefits.

The district continues to promote the store and improve its operations to further increase the diverted tonnage and income from resale.

Local Government Challenges and Opportunities

The Last Chance is a good example of a reuse and salvage facility that may be implemented by local governments in a variety of ways. Last Chance was based on the example of Urban Ore in Berkeley, which started salvaging at the landfill, then at the transfer station. The facility is used now mostly by individuals before they dispose of their wastes.

Local governments could encourage similar reuse and salvaging activities in a number of ways, including:

  • Promote existing reuse, thrift, repair, and salvage businesses with guides, listings, advertisements, and referrals.
  • Work with telephone directory services to highlight reuse and repair businesses.
  • Organize community wide “garage sales.”
  • Develop local material exchange listings like the California Materials Exchange (CALMAX)
  • Encourage creative reuse projects and warehouses for collecting and selling reusable materials.
  • Target reuse and repair industries to be eligible for local business assistance programs, grants, loans, and job training assistance.
  • Encourage reuse, thrift, repair, and salvage businesses to locate near each other, and promote the site as a “reuse and recycling zone.”
  • Provide local tax exemptions or reductions and/or fees for reuse, thrift, repair, and salvage businesses.
  • Reuse salvaged goods from community cleanups.
  • Swap paints, cleaners, and household pesticides from household hazardous waste events.

Tips for Replication

  • Identify reuse, thrift, repair, and salvage businesses in your area, and ask them how you can help them expand.
  • Include reuse and salvage areas at transfer stations and landfills outside the gate where disposal fees are paid.
  • Require contractors that operate transfer stations and landfills to provide reuse and salvage services, and offer space for reuse businesses to locate there.


Pursuant to contract (IWM-C8028) with the University of California at Santa Cruz for a series of 24 studies and summaries, Gary Liss & Associates researched and wrote this summary for the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle).

The statements and conclusions in this summary are those of the contractor and not necessarily those of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), its employees, or the State of California. In addition, the data in this report was provided by local sources but not independently verified. The State and its contractors make no warranty, express or implied, and assume no liability for the information contained in this text. Any mention of commercial products, companies or processes shall not be construed as an endorsement of such products or processes.

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Last updated: October 5, 2015
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