This is in today's edition of Small Town Newspaper:
Today is America Recycles Day, set aside to encourage us to recycle more than we already do and to make a point of buying more products made from recycled material. If there’s one thing we’re all good at, it’s buying more products. Even in a recession, or something that feels like one at least, we are known as a nation of consumers, and our voracious appetite has left us with a glut of trash.
Recycling household trash has become increasingly efficient and economical, but it will take more to change our disposable culture into one that values all of its resources. Fortunately, some innovative people have figured out ways to reuse our trash, and while their craftiness is just a drop in the landfill, it does show we’re beginning to rethink our throw-it-out ways. People turn old bottles into decorative lamps, spent wine barrels into planters and nubby T-shirts into reusable shopping bags. Candy wrappers become purses, old tires become wallets and compact discs become Christmas ornaments. And what clever people are doing with used newspapers has become an industry in itself, producing crayons, insulation, tissue paper, shoes, sculpture, yarn, cat litter and even sturdy furniture as strong and durable as wood.
But we’re not just finding new uses for the small stuff. Some of us are dreaming big and inventing ways to make even our unwieldy garbage useful again. Our more creative designers are reshaping our discarded appliances and assorted things we once thought we couldn’t live without, setting an example for prudent resource management, and they’re making a profit while doing it.
Furniture designers are making occasional chairs out of shopping carts and sofas out of sawn-off claw-footed bathtubs. They are transforming discarded dishwasher drums into coffee tables and vintage irons into office lamps. They’re turning old sports equipment like skateboards, skis and baseball bats into things like novelty tables and chairs.
Our shipyards are piled high with empty containers, presumably because of the trade deficit—lots of goods coming in, but not nearly as much going out. So, our dockyards are collecting these containers by the hundreds of thousands, stacking them up into higher and higher eyesores. In response, architects have begun using this plentiful resource as building material.
Designers like Peter DeMaria with Logical Homes in California have managed to turn these containers into houses, and not unsightly rusty box homes you wouldn’t put a hound dog in. His company manufactures everything from quaint cottages to 3,500-square-foot luxury homes with five bedrooms and three and a half baths. These custom-made homes are attractive and durable, and they are typically much cheaper to build than are homes made with conventional materials. They are less expensive to maintain and to heat, but even better, they make use of existing materials that would otherwise go to waste.
Thomas Fuller, a 17th-century clergyman, said, “Willful waste brings woeful want.” If that admonition was true in his day, it’s even more relevant today when we are more crowded and surrounded on all sides by unused materials, while at the same time facing a diminishing supply of fresh and affordable resources. To let go to waste those things we might otherwise think of as trash is a luxury we can no longer afford. And to be such hearty consumers without the balance of recycling and reusing may soon leave us in “woeful want,” I’m afraid.
On America Recycles Day, I’ll add a few bottles and a stack of catalogs to my recycle bin as I have been doing for awhile now, but I’m banking on grander recycling projects other than what comes out of my little kitchen to make a big difference, because we’ve only begun to address our growing garbage dilemma. From here on out, everyone will need to think bigger and more creatively. We’ll be leaning heavily on those with the imagination to look at objects not for what they are but for what they can become, those who can look at shipping containers and a see bungalow or who gather up a stack of newspapers and see a coffee table. But we’re all going to have to be better at envisioning the possibilities and at reinventing a new wheel out of an old one.