It’s been a few decades since recycling has become mainstream, but the bigger picture of sustainability is an ongoing and evolving process that still requires new, innovative ideas. I continue to be surprised and impressed by individuals, companies, and organizations that are coming up with new creative approaches to the 3 Rs: That is, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
From companies that are recycling the unexpected, to designers who are making fantastic creations out of landfill-bound trash, to statements that make us re-think what we discard, read on to meet some of my newest sustainability heroes:
1. Sharing, Not Shopping
Two Toronto friends started a tool library and quickly realized that the concept of borrowing, rather than buying, equipment could expand beyond simply hardware. With a small annual fee, members of the Sharing Depot can “check out” board games, sporting goods, garden tools, children’s toys, and more. It’s an innovative way to really maximize the use of household items.
2. A Statement About Clothing Waste
In 2016, Savers, a thrift retail chain, created an art installation in Seattle that was intended as a wake-up call to educate the public about the staggering amount of clothing and other textiles that are thrown away each year — more than 10.5 million tons in America alone. Using 3,000 pounds of clothing that had been donated to the stores, but which didn’t sell, artists created an installation that resembled clothing spilling from oil drums onto a sandy beach. The sculpture was also intended to make a statement about the pollution and waste of resources that is prevalent in the textile and apparel industries.
3. A Repurposing Resource for Nonprofits
In New York City, there is a warehouse full of donated materials such as fabric, art supplies, furniture, digital equipment, and more. Called Materials for the Arts, this warehouse exists for nonprofit arts organizations, educational institutions, and other approved groups to get much-needed supplies, which might’ve otherwise ended up in a landfill. The center also hosts educational programming focused on the art of reuse. The city’s Department of Cultural Affairs operates the warehouse.
4. Recycling With Compassion
When the deceased are cremated, what becomes of their surgical implants, such as a titanium hip, a pacemaker, or a metal pin securing a once-shattered bone? One Dutch company, OrthoMetals, has become a specialist in recycling these metals, some of which, such as titanium, are quite valuable and useful. The company collects the metal pieces, sorts them by material and melts them down. The metal is then sold to manufacturers where it is used not for other surgical implants but for machinery, and the profits are returned to the crematorium, which typically donates the money to charity. While it may seem gruesome, the idea of these metals being reused as something of value is a comforting one indeed.
5. Designing with Deadstock
Normally textile showrooms or suppliers can’t do much with the few yards remaining at the end of a bolt of fabric, something that’s referred to in the industry as deadstock. Enter design company Christy Dawn, which seeks out these fabric remainders to make small runs of vintage-inspired clothing. The eponymous designer is adamant about doing her part to counter the pollution caused by the textile industry by giving new life to this fabric, which otherwise might end up in the landfill.
6. Beyond Farm to Table
A farmer in England has created a cyclical cycle of food production that minimizes waste, reduces CO2 emissions and protects biodiversity, all while providing London’s best restaurants with top-notch produce. Indie Ecology collects food waste from restaurant kitchens, turns it into compost, which is then used to amend the soil that’s used to grow crops to a restaurant chef’s specifications. The farm processes about 7 tons of restaurant food waste every day, using a Japanese anaerobic composting method that can even break down dairy and animal protein.
The ingenuity of these companies and organizations is a great reminder that with eco-minded motivation and a little creative thinking we truly can create a better, more sustainable world.