More than 20 years ago, a group of residents in Mid-City saw some neighbors pouring paint down city storm drains, which lead directly to Lake Pontchartrain.
Hoping to cut down on the practice and promote conservation, they formed a paint exchange program, recycling the unwanted leftovers to make new colors.
Twenty-four years later, that same group has become the Green Project, a nonprofit that not only offers recycled paint but also claims to save a whopping six tons of reusable materials from landfills every day by repurposing and reselling them.
Now, the operation is expanding still further by partnering with the Preservation Resource Center, which for 14 years has operated its own salvage operation in the warehouse space next door, selling recycled architectural items from local buildings to contractors, artists and others.
Under a new agreement, the Green Project will manage both spaces and contribute some salvaged materials to the Resource Center's inventory. The idea is to provide a one-stop shop for salvaged items and ultimately reduce further the amount of material that ends up in landfills.
The combined operation will have a footprint of 28,000 square feet at 2831 Marais St. in Bywater.
"It's a celebration of lots of salvage under one roof," said Catherine Crowell, executive director of the Green Project. "There's creative reuse, historic preservation ... everyone is going to meet their needs."
The Green Project on Wednesday also unveiled a redesign that its staff has been working on for months. The revamp begins outside the main entrance, where a new mural featuring brightly colored fish and blue water surrounds a storm drain.
The mural, created with in-house paint, is a reminder not to "pour anything but water" down storm drains across the city, Crowell said. To that end, the artist will paint a similar mural for each City Council district.
It also alludes to the fact that the Green Project hosts the only paint recycling facility of its kind in the Gulf South, repurposing an average of 40,000 gallons of paint each year.
The mural leads to a walkway, adorned with reused creations from local artists, that connects the two parts of the newly combined facility.
Inside, one half of the compound features mostly modern salvaged materials, including doors that generally sell for between $10 and $20, along with chandeliers, hardware and other items.
Occasionally, unusual items will come through, including coffins used during an opera performance, historic Shaker roof tiles and even old pianos.
Crowell calls it "Home Depot with a twist."
The other side features historic items such as antique lighting, mantels, Gothic windows and more.
Generally, everything sells for about 30 percent of its retail value, Crowell said.
Between 30 percent and 50 percent of the money from sales of the historic items will go to the Preservation Resource Center, Crowell said.
Proceeds from non-historic items will go to the Green Project's paint recycling program, as well as to community grants and outreach events that allow New Orleanians to interact with recycled materials through creative projects. For example, participants can play recycling trivia games or use recycled paints to spruce up old fabrics.
In-house, the Green Project offers reuse workshops that teach participants how to make a nightstand, craft windowpanes, create unique holiday gifts and more.
Money also goes to the nonprofit's K-12 education program. The free environmental education lessons use hands-on activities, literature and art to generate discussions and critical thinking about creative reuse and recycling.
"It's a very sustainable, circular economy," Crowell said.