Mary Ryan Pioneers Conscious Consumerism at UMF

Mary Ryan Pioneers Conscious Consumerism at UMF

Mary Ryan, pictured with student worker Brooke Carrier, educates the community about recycling. (Photo by Andrea Swiedom)

Contributing Writer

In the basement of the Education Center, a room is shelved with items for sale that people would commonly call trash– an assortment of leather scraps, salvaged coffee cans, jars of colorful buttons, used spools of Christmas ribbon.  For thirty-eight years, Depot Coordinator Mary Ryan has been collecting reusable items destined for incineration or a landfill for the non-profit organization, Everyone’s Resource Depot (ERD).

   Ryan, who is originally from Wilton, had been teaching high school biology in Massachusetts when ERD was founded in 1979 by UMF faculty.  A year later, Ryan returned home to take some time off from teaching. When she learned about ERD, she was immediately compelled to join the organization.

   Ryan associated her interest in reusing from her mother who did a lot of crafts and utilized items around the house rather than going to the store to buy materials.  “So I think that was probably a big part of what interested me, but also just the idea that we just throw so much stuff away,” said Ryan.

   The depot accepts donations and keeps a running list of wanted items posted on the wall and on the depot’s website.  Ryan is currently on the look-out for pom poms, baby food jars and coffee filters, to name a few. Sometimes, Ryan has to reject donations, but she always provides guidance as to how people can recycle what they’ve brought in.  However, when Ryan first started at ERD, Farmington didn’t have a recycling center.

   “There wasn’t anywhere near the emphasis back in 1980 on recycling or reusing.  There was no community recycling then either,” said Ryan. “This has all happened since so, I guess the world was very different in a way.”

   Ryan’s efforts to minimize trash did not stop with ERD.  She set out with a community group to successfully establish Farmington’s recycling center.  “So now we can say to someone who brings us a bag of stuff, ‘now these particular things can go into your recycling.’  They might not really keep track of what they can recycle,” Ryan said while running her hand through a container of buttons.  

   The Depot is a tactile experience as much as a shopping experience with boxes full of felt, wood pieces organized by shape and beads organized by color.  It’s difficult to refrain from impulsively touching everything. While individual donations contribute to the variety of items, so does relationships with local businesses that Ryan and board members have formed over the years.

   WA Mitchell Fine Furniture started donating wood scraps and dowels three years ago and Ryan picks up plastic fish tubs from Moser’s Seafood every month.  Once items make it to the depot, student workers play a huge role in organizing the plethora of donations. Ryan expressed immense gratitude towards her student workers who often organize items in ways she wouldn’t consider and it often helps keep items moving.  

     “I appreciate [student workers]…looking at something with a different eye because you get so used to something, you just accept that that’s the way it’s going to be,” said Ryan.  Keeping items moving is integral to this organization which currently has a storage room stuffed to the brim with items that haven’t sold.

      Ryan said she’d like to see more students utilize the ERD and ask themselves,  “‘what could I use here [at ERD] and do I need that particular item that I was just gonna go to Wal-Mart for, or is there something else here that would work just as well?’”

   The pricing at ERD ranges from five cents to two dollars per individual item so customers can buy the exact amount they need.  There are similar organizations to ERD in Lewiston and Westbrook, but their pricing is based on a yearly membership fee which can pose as a barrier for a person to just walk in and grab what they need for a single project.  Ryan prefers ERD’s open to the public, pay per item set-up. “I just think people think more about what they’re picking up…if they’re paying for it. It’s just human nature.”

     Everyone’s Resource Depot is located in room 009 in the Education Center.  Visit for more information.