University of Maine doctoral student Brieanne Berry researches how Old Town, Maine residents use the secondhand economy to make a living and form community ties.
Berry, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in anthropology and environmental policy, is exploring what that city’s reuse economy looks like — how and why people participate, and if reuse is used as a strategy during times of economic uncertainty, such as the closing of the local paper mill.
She seeks to learn if reuse is associated with social capital, or the idea that the networks people form can help communities achieve goals.
Berry, who lives in Old Town, also wants to learn what kinds of economic, social and environmental values are generated from reuse.
For the past three years, she has conducted literature reviews and historic analyses on reuse in Maine with Cynthia Isenhour, a professor of anthropology and climate change.
In summer 2019, she began interviewing owners of reuse businesses and organizations in Old Town, as well as residents who buy secondhand goods. She plans to volunteer at reuse establishments, and speak with people who sell and buy items online. Next year, Berry also will follow items that leave Maine and end up in Boston or New York.
Berry earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from George Washington University and a master’s degree in urban affairs from City University of New York’s Hunter College.
While in New York City, her research focused on urban sustainability themes, including energy efficiency and waste reduction.
“It’s great if we compost, it’s really good to recycle, but it’s not enough,” Berry says. “I was interested in trying to find more ways people were making transformative change.”
As a Peace Corps volunteer, she lived in Mali in West Africa for two years and was fascinated with the country’s robust reuse economy.
Berry came to UMaine to work with Isenhour on her reuse research, and became a member of the Materials Management Team in the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions.
“This is exactly what I want to do — try to find ways to reduce waste that aren’t just furthering the process of consumption,” she says of her research, which has garnered several UMaine awards, including the Edith Patch Award and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences graduate award in research and creativity.