Startup gives ex-cons a second chance while upcycling construction waste

One year ago, industrial commercial designer Sasha Plotitsa launched Formr, a startup that repurposes waste while transforming the lives of formerly incarcerated people, so that both have a second chance.

Plotitsa’s father was a contractor, so he spent a lot of time on job sites while he was growing up. This exposure brought to his attention the massive amount of waste that is generated on construction sites. He would see huge slabs of concrete, broken bricks or pipes, and bins filled with chunks of debris, all toted off to a landfill to contribute to the 600 million tons of waste we produce every year.

Plotitsa didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps and become a contractor but instead pursued a degree in industrial design. In 2009 he was hired to design the MediThrive cannabis dispensary in San Francisco, but this project was shut down by the federal government because cannabis was not legal nationally (even if it was legal in California).

Through his experience with MediThrive, he saw first-hand how difficult it is for previously incarcerated people to find stable employment and get their lives back on track. “I saw for myself what the failed war on drugs looked like,” says Plotitsa. “When someone comes out of prison, they have to check the box on a job application that says they have a record. That makes it very hard for them to get their life back on track.”

The creation of Formr was inspired by the two problems that Plotitsa cares about most: waste and recidivism. Plotitsa hires formerly incarcerated people through a range of organizations that help those who have been recently released find employment. He then trains them to clean salvaged materials and transform them into beautiful furniture pieces. Each piece is designed by Plotitsa himself, and then handmade in his San Francisco workshop by the Formr team. So far, he has hired six workers.

Since there is no established infrastructure for the collection of usable construction waste, Plotitsa has to call contractors one by one and ask if he can go through their trash. Some don’t want to participate because they are set in their ways or don’t want to take on any potential liabilities, but thankfully other contractors understand his mission and support the cause. Plotitsa hopes that this mindset will spread throughout the industry so that less material goes to waste.

Formr’s designs are colorful, minimal, and highly functional and cost between $89 and $569. If you love to furnish your home with pieces that tell a story and are socially responsible, check out the Formr website.

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