“Recycling turns things into other things; which is like magic.”
PHOTOS & MONTAGE © JON H. DAVIS & IRIS
Click image to enlarge.
Does recycling make you think of plastic bottles and paper cups? Think again. The concept of reducing, reusing, and recycling may seem old hat. But there are endless numbers of creative uses for products, which have ceased to function as originally intended. In my travels I have come across baskets crafted from folded magazine pages or soda tabs on the Micronesian archipelago of Palau, purses made from buttons in Borneo, bottle cap rattles and oil can guitars in Malawi, and metal masks in Haiti created from former oil drums. In France I discover bells were recycled for minting coins in the 1800s, which is sad since for many, taking a bell from a town is akin to removing its soul. An evocative reindeer sculpture in Norway incorporates motorcycle parts while art from beach trash by the Skeleton Sea collaborative in the form of a blue chameleon sculpture, made from toy shovels, belts, straws, rope, and fragments of plastic bottles now adorns a lobby in southern Portugal at the chic Memmo Baleeira hotel. There is even a shoe store in Shanghai, China built completely from trash including miles of cable and 50,000 discarded CDs and DVDs.
Nowadays recycled products ranging from baseball bat bottle openers and snow ski wine racks to bike chain bowls, inner tube handbags, and golf club rocking chairs are not limited to far-flung locales. Old skateboards can become coat racks, coasters, mirrors, shelves, slingshots, and swings while repurposed salt and peppershakers serve as chess pieces. There are musical instruments made from discarded tennis rackets, old silverware, hubcaps, and refrigerator vegetable bins, while logs for the fireplace are constructed from used coffee grinds, and hair clippings may be recycled to aid in cleaning up oil spills.
Scientists believe our oceans will have more plastic than fish by 2050. As Earth Day approaches on April 22, with over one billion global participants, let’s take an updated look at recycling, sparking the imagination and bringing awareness to new ways of reducing our carbon footprint and helping our planet. What can you create from recycled materials?
“Americans dispose of 16-thousand pounds of trash every second.”
In a TEDx Talk, eco-designer and “ecopreneur,” Jason Utgaard suggests we consider ourselves as temporary users rather than consumers. He imagines a world where everything–from cigarette butts to old tires–is not refuse, but the basis of other evolving products. Concerned that landfills are not bottomless pits, Utgaard is designing for a new world built on discarded materials. Old jeans can become insulation in homes, tires can be made into sidewalks, and discarded cigarette butts can be converted into ashtrays and other filters. Developing technology deals with innovative ways to recycle in our changing society, where one car battery can be a source for constructing solar panels, and recycled Styrofoam can be transformed into glue. But most importantly, Utgaard promotes the idea of “recycling our thinking.”
Vic Muniz is a New York-based, Brazilian-born artist who finds inspiration in landfills, particularly the largest one in the world, Jardim Gramacho (which was shut down in 2012 after operating for over three decades and turned into a modern methane recapture plant) outside of Rio de Janeiro. When operating as a landfill, 7,000-tons of garbage arrived each day, attracting squatters and scavengers who traded the recycled materials they found. This community of about 3,000 “catadores” (garbage-picking workers) at this landfill was responsible for removing approximately 200-tons of recyclable material daily.
The Oscar-nominated, documentary film, Waste Land by Lucy Walker (released in 2011) tells the story of Muniz, a socially-conscious artist who creates pieces (sometimes posing the garbage workers as subjects echoing famous paintings) and then gives back the proceeds from his iconic artworks to the Garbage Pickers’ Association. Whether Muniz is inspired by trash or incorporating other unlikely materials into his pieces–such as dirt, diamonds, sugar, and chocolate syrup–he is well worth investigating.
The Landfill Harmonic in Cateura, Paraguay makes instruments for their orchestra from trash in their extensive landfill. Many of the families in the community have united to create drum heads incorporating discarded x-ray film and string instruments constructed from repurposed metal cans, oil tins, forks, and assorted wood scraps. The results are hybrid creations enabling the children in this orchestra to perform Western classics rather than playing in mounds of trash without a focus. Musical director Favio Chavez, who is also an environmental engineer, leads and inspires kids in an orchestra which tours the world. “My life would be worthless without music,” says one of the kids, now performing in the orchestra called the “symphony of the human spirit.”
Musical instruments made from repurposed materials are also found in the United States. Composer Skip La Plante designs, builds, and plays Styrofoam cellos or styrostrings (constructed from rectangular, Styrofoam boxes with cardboard tube necks and wooden bridges), refrigerator vegetable bin gongs (with impressive resonance), chimes from keys, and xylophones made of discarded wrenches, along with his ensemble, Music For Homemade Instruments.
Living in a New York City loft on the Bowery for many years–where admission to a performance could be bartered with recycled materials–the urban environment allows him to repurpose many items. “I’ve pretty much chosen to work with the cheapest materials possible, and trash is free,” says LaPlante, who is also concerned with the physics of his instruments and has worked as a teaching artist for the NYC Materials for the Arts, an organization who receives donations of unwanted items from corporations and individuals, making them available to artists and teachers for repurposing in sometimes surprising ways.
Unlike the South American group, LaPlante is not trying to play old Western classics. He composes contemporary works sometimes calling for peanut butter jar percussion, silverware chimes, or tuned panpipes constructed from test tubes and wax. He has used water as a drumstick in his piece “The Waterfall” and old license plates, coffee cans, yogurt containers, garbage can lids, and other items found during his beach-combing activities in Maine, bring new life to his compositions. Because there is no tradition with these instruments, he believes it frees people up to experiment and explore sound in new ways.
While Skip is a trained musician, fellow New Yorker, instrument maker/performer Ken Butler comes from a solid visual arts background. Ken constructs ever-evolving hybrid visions from everyday objects–coat hangers, clocks, boats, axes, toothbrushes, and tennis rackets–which often become amplified string instruments with contact microphones. Butler’s instruments/sculptures assembled from dismantling consumer society are visually alluring and have been exhibited in a variety of museums. Although humor is an important element in his performances, Butler is seriously interested in the interaction and transformation of common and uncommon objects and the intersection of music and art.
“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends,
have become global garbage cans.”
Wind energy is a booming global industry today. And some communities look to a future with wind farms, made up of multiple wind turbines, providing alternative energy. As individuals we may not have the option to harness the power of wind as an external energy source lowering monthly electric and heating bills. But writer Renee Baribeau maintains the wind can impact our inner healing energy and awareness in our path through life. Her new book, Winds of Spirit (Hay House), draws on ancient wisdom, mythology, and meteorology coupled with personal anecdotes to compile a practical guide employing the wind as a navigational tool. Whether you focus on a spiritual opening, calling upon the wind gods and goddesses from many lands, which are referenced throughout the book, or follow the more hands-on tips of this wind whistler and motivational speaker/writer, Winds of Spirit offers new and often reassuring perspectives applicable to many situations.
On a purely practical level, indoor air pollution is a huge problem and you may want to clean, purify, and recycle the air in your immediate environment. Mold, dust, toxins, and allergens are among the most common hazards found in the polluted air we regularly breathe. The indoor air quality, which can have a detrimental impact on our health, need not be stagnant.
The new company Molekule has a remedy for cleansing our indoor air in what COO, Jaya Rao calls, “the only molecular air purifier proven to destroy indoor pollutants at the molecular level.” This recycling of the air is a patented process of photo electrochemical oxidation, claiming to eliminate allergens, mold, bacteria, airborne chemicals, and microscopic pollutants, which have a negative impact on our health. While the price tag may seem high at first, consider what it does. In Auto mode, the machine determines the optimal speed of the air for your environment before cleaning it and the Molekule can be easily carried to another room to fully recycle and replace the air in about an hour (for a 600-square foot room), making it desirable for anyone, but especially for those suffering from asthma or other respiratory issues.
The Molekule not only captures undesirable air with filters, but converts the harmful pollutants into safe, healthy indoor air in a sleekly designed cylindrical, aluminum unit with blue lights (low energy, UV LED), a product you might expect to see in the Museum of Modern Art gift shop, where form and function are ideally blended. When opening up the box, the cardboard reveals a printed message: “We are on a mission to eliminate indoor air pollution in every home for everyone. Years of scientific research presented a fundamentally new solution to clean air. We feel a moral obligation to take that solution as far as we can. Inside this box you will find our first step to get there. Enjoy.”
“The cosmos is an ever-living fire.”
Fires have been warming human hearts for two million years. The ancient tradition of gathering by the fire–either under the stars or within a shelter–has not been replaced, although technology offers new options. If you have a fireplace, consider burning Java-Logs. Mechanical engineer Ron Sprules invented Java-Logs, a fire log constructed from recycled coffee grounds, with remarkable results. These logs account for recycling over 12-million pounds of coffee grounds each year and are clean burning, high energy, and green products. They are produced by the Pine Mountain company, who also manufacture fire logs from recycled candle wax, hardwood sawdust, and used pallets. Saving trees by burning logs may seem counter-intuitive, but these products using recycled materials such as coffee grounds and biomass products like ground tree nutshells help reduce food and landfill waste by about 100-million pounds each year. And every Pine Mountain Java-Log purchase supports the Arbor Day Foundation (celebrating Arbor Day on April 27), planting trees in a North American forest.
While Pine Mountain distributes their Java Logs throughout the U.S, and Canada, for use in fireplaces, fire pits, and campfires, the UK has bio-bean, where coffee waste has additional applications, such as biodiesel for the London bus network. Bio-fuels and biochemicals are manufactured from coffee grounds collected from coffee shops, offices, and factories with the assistance of the rapidly growing bio-bean company. Or you can mix your used coffee grounds–which are rich in nitrogen and deter ants–into compost or as a fertilizer for garden and houseplants. This works with tea leaves as well.
WATER & BEACH REMAINS:
TRANSFORMING TRASH INTO ART
“Filthy water cannot be washed.”
-West African Proverb
Coastlines may conjure up water in many hues of blue, but the myriad of discarded and washed-up objects found along the beach have become a serious problem. Some artists, looking at the refuse as a resource, are transforming this trash into art. Italian artist Giorgia Concato turns found and observed objects into elements in her mixed media art. Often inspired by the ocean, these recycled materials may be sand, seaweed, and plastic found in the ocean, or leftover cardboard cake boxes and other surprises. She says: “Water is one of the basics we need to live.” This month she will transform a conference room into a seabed during a sustainable weekend initiative presented by the Costa Smeralda Consortium and MedSea Foundation, based on the island of Sardinia. They are involved in a process of making the Mediterranean Sea and coastal ecosystems more sustainable along with innovative solutions to conserve and protect the cultural heritage of the Mediterranean for future generations. The work of these organizations and artists such as Giorgia Concato contribute to making the public more aware of environmental issues as they impact the sea and coastal environments.
Other artists who work with recycled materials such as plastic bottles include David Edgar (who creates colorful plastic aquarium animals from used detergent bottles and other recycled plastic), Aurora Robson–who has salvaged 30,000 plastic bottles into her seemingly organic, abstract sculptures–and aluminum cans as seen in the Soda Can Dragon, exhibited at the Paris Zoological Park. At a surfer lodge in Portugal, an art show focused on washed up trash along beaches used to create an imaginary sea creature from lost flip-flops, a giant fish from can lids, and a skeleton from the sea constructed with fragments of rubber for a sculpture of a tiger shark by Xandi Kreuzeder.
Discarded, washed ashore surfboards in Hawaii are rescued from a landfill and crafted into impressive wooden carved sculptures telling tales of the South Seas. No two pieces are the same in this land of “talk story” where these Polynesian engravings are designed and carved by master craftsman Gecko (Mike Souriolle) of South Sea Arts in Oahu. Not all surfboard artists live in Hawaii. Philip Gutt, based in the Pacific Northwest, uses 100% recycled surfboards and covers them with glass tiles in dazzling, landscape mosaics. Surfer related art has also been created by the collaborative team of imaginative artist Imogene Drummond and environmental scientist Richard Blundell, who make surfboards into art objects. Drummond treats surfboards as her canvas for painting, filling them with colorful, organic brushwork in vibrant hues. Blundell believes his “Surfer’s Guide to the Universe” is about more than surfboards; he is interested in our relationship with the biosphere and making our world and cosmos a better place.
How can we participate in helping our coastlines? There are organizations such as Matter of Trust, who work on cleaning up oil spills with hair, fur, and fleece in a waste fiber-recycling program. Hair has a natural ability to collect oil and this is exactly what it has done in ecological disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and BP oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico. Certainly recycling hair to mop up oil is a better use than allowing 60-million pounds of human hair to go into landfills in the US annually. You can take an active role by encouraging your local hair salon to join in a program to recycle hair. The Nurture Green Salon and Spa in Saratoga Springs, New York does this by participating with the company, Green Circle Salons, a sustainable salon partnership across North America with the mission of repurposing about 85-95% of waste from salons. Learn more at https://www.greencirclesalons.ca/about
Sometimes it is water itself, which can have another life. Women on Vanuatu in the South Pacific Ocean including Cecelia Lolonun of the Leweton Women’s Water Music ensemble maintain the tradition of playing water music with their hands. Water functions as their instrument as they slap, slice, dice, chop and churn the water, imitating sounds of nature with their virtuosic technique. Norwegian composer/performer Terje Isungset collaborates with Connecticut-based ice sculptor Bill Covitz to construct visually stunning ice instruments from frozen water, which both look and sound ethereal.
PHOTOS & MONTAGE © JON H. DAVIS & IRIS
Click image to enlarge.
In Norway–a country where penguins have been knighted and the first dog-sled taxi service began–there is an annual festival in a snow amphitheater featuring instruments made of ice. The festival organizer, Isungset, was inspired by an encounter with a frozen waterfall and since then his percussion set-up often involves ice chimes, ice marimbas, ice hand percussion and even ice drumsticks. Isungset, who claims the best crushed ice he ever heard was in the South Pole, explains after performances, “you can drink the instruments or store them for another celebration.”
Most of the world does not have pristine water and ice as found in the South Pole. This year the Earth Day Network–whose mission is building the world’s largest environmental movement–is working on ending plastic pollution. This non-profit organization has many ideas for inspiration. As Earth Day approaches on April 22, what steps can we each take towards making our planet greener?
“We are all responsible for the protection and care of the environment.
This responsibility knows no boundaries. “
-Pope Benedict XVI
Arbor Day Foundation
Earth Day Network
Matter of Trust
US EPA - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Jason Utgaard Ted Talk
The Spotted Door - Online Store for recycled &reclaimed materials
Molekule Air Purifier
Skeleton Sea Art Collaborative
Waste Land Film
Iris Brooks is a widely published author who has performed music on panpipes
made from recycled chemistry test tubes, hubcap gongs, and bottle cap rattles.
She has documented ice instruments in Norway, photographed masks in Haiti,
collected artworks made from kukui nuts in Ecuador, and admired baskets crafted
from soda tabs in Micronesia. Brooks collaborates with
photographer/videographer Jon H. Davis on many projects around the world for
print and film, often featuring cultural explorations and forgotten arts. Visit
Northern Lights Studio Link here.