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Materials re-use on the web

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bre's Materials Information Exchange is an Internet site* that tries to promote the reuse of materials. Its focus is sustainability through recycling of materials, rather than exchange of building materials for conservation, though the two can sit comfortably together. For this aj conservation issue we revisited it after several months in operation, looking for conservation materials.

The site is in four sections - materials available, unwanted stock, materials wanted and future demolitions. For each there are both a search mechanism and a facility to input your own offerings or requirements.

The search mechanism for each item covers the quantity available, a brief description of the material, its location, availability, cost and contact information. These items are categorised within an overall typology of materials dominated by varieties of aggregates and soil, though there are separate categories for masonry, timber, plastic, metal and miscellaneous.

This coarse categorisation needs refinement if it is to include conservation. For example, 'timber' includes elm floorboards as well as scrap pallets. With few entries on the site at the moment this is tolerable but search- refinement would help. It is the lack of entries today that is most striking. For example there are no tiles listed anywhere, and only 3200 visits recorded since August last year.

The underlying problem is that while this site is a good idea, in an era of a private-sector bre it has no visible means of support. No adverts or entry fee; no cut from transactions. Without an income stream there is no finance for publicity, essential for any emerging web-site. However, once the site gets a critical mass of traffic, its operation could be largely automatic.

There is clearly a need for such a service for both sustainability and conservation. For example, Wayne Adams of W S Atkins seeks ex-marine timber for an ecological river scheme. Simon Cottell of Cresswell, Cuttle & Dyke in Guernsey seeks local suppliers of elm or pine boards and beams in what can be a resource-scarce island. But neither has had any response. This site needs a business boost.


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