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Junkluggers turn your clutter into donations

The business aims by 2020 to rescue or recycle everything it is hired to remove from residences and businesses.

On Tuesday, Zachary Cohen, owner of The Junkluggers of Manhattan and Brooklyn, explained how he started his business and how it has helped him give back to the community, by donating or recycling much of everything received. (Credit: Egan-Chin Debbie)

There really is a place for everything.

That is what Zachary Cohen, owner of The Junkluggers of Manhattan and Brooklyn, discovered when his company was hired to remove 10 truckloads of dirt and planting soil.

The last place he wanted it to go was the dump.

“I knew it was good dirt, from different types of potted plants,” Cohen said.

Several phone calls later, Junkluggers deposited the soil in Whitestone, where it was distributed to community gardens and local schools.

“I figured if we can successfully donate dirt, then we can pretty much do anything,” Cohen said.

Cohen and his team of 40-plus employees, who charge $200 to $1,000 a job, have an ambitious goal. By 2020, Junkluggers hopes to find an environmentally correct home for everything it is hired to remove from residences and businesses.

That means each piece of furniture, book, clothing, mattress and assorted tchotchkes will be donated, reused or recycled.

“New York City’s zero waste initiative is by 2030, our goal is to be zero waste by 2020,” said Cohen, 31, who lives in Long Island City. “Our mission is to keep as many items out of the landfill as possible.”

A new warehouse in Long Island City is helping them reach that goal, by providing a storage space for items while Junkluggers staffers reach out to a large network of charities, schools, religious institutions and other organizations to pick them up.

In 2015, the company made 2,000 rounds of donations, accounting for everything from a few items to a truckload of stuff. By 2018, Junkluggers doubled that number.

The staff have donated discarded standing desks to schools and distributed new bicycles from a defunct messenger service to Recycle a Bicycle.

Donations from Junkluggers to Habitat for Humanity's New York City ReStore has brought in $25,000 over the past two years, according to Leslie Williams, director of the Queens store, which supports the nonprofit's larger work of building and preserving affordable housing.

“Junkluggers is hands down the number one donor to the Habitat NYC ReStore,” Williams told amNewYork in an email.

Currently, items, such as mattresses, have to be thrown out, but Cohen said some companies are working on ways to recycle parts of the bedding. 

Junkluggers' humble roots go back about 15 years to Connecticut, where Cohen and his older brother, Josh, grew up. One day, a neighbor paid them $100 to remove a couch.

“My brother and I lugged it back to our parents’ basement,” Zach Cohen recalled. “We sat on it and realized there is something here. There’s a need for it.”

The business has grown since its early days, when it relied on a trailer hitched to a pickup truck. There are more than two dozen Junkluggers franchises in 11 states. Josh Cohen is the company’s CEO. Zach owns the Manhattan and Brooklyn franchises, having moved his business operations from his former Upper West Side apartment to the East Village, and finally to Long Island City.

The spacious headquarters, decorated with murals by local artists, can accommodate trucks, but not much stuff. So Junkluggers rented a nearby warehouse.

It is filled with a mix of unique — and sometimes high-end — furniture, paintings, prints, housewares and oddities, like a Kodak carousel slide projector, typewriters and what appears to be an old-school police nightstick.

“I love everything, I am probably the worst person to work here,” Lon Epstein, the 31-year-old director of sales and business development, admitted with a laugh. “I just can’t throw things out.”

A recent clean-out from a film and TV production company included a massive whale tail made of plaster and foam.

Epstein worked the phones until he found a place for it at Materials for the Arts.

“I was like, we can’t throw this out,” Epstein said. “It’s too cool!”


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