Archive for April, 2011

Arvind Gupta makes trash into toys

Friday, April 29, 2011

Must watch! Arvind Gupta is a charming Mr. Wizard. And highly quotable:

“The slogan of the 70’s was Go to the People.  Live with them. Start with what they know. Build on what they have.”

“The best thing you can do to a toy is break it.”

“Many of our folk toys have great science principles.”

Thanks, Douglas, for sending the link!


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

This article on upcycling as a design trend in the Ecologist made me lust after several items, chief among them this hot chair reupholstered in coffee sack.


My first thought in seeing this was “I’m going to Peru next week for work. I wonder how hard it is to find cute coffee sacks.” My second: “What was the name of that sweet book I read when I was a kid about a poor family and the daughter gets so excited for a new dress made from a pretty feed sack, then is devastated when the other kids recognize where she got the fabric?”

I’ll let you know if I ever remember. Some Web searching on the subject led to some other charming discoveries, though. This feed sack dress pictured on Meme’s Corner looks exactly like what I imagined when reading the aforementioned young adult fiction and speaks to the resourcefulness of Americans in the 1930’s and 40’s when we shared a common understanding of what it meant to live on limited resources.

via Meme's Corner

Meme says:

People were in the mode of “making do or do without”. Not only did chicken feed come in cloth bags but cattle and horse feed as well … Later burlap type bags were used and came in printed designs. Neighbors would trade feed sacks to have enough for a garment.

The full post is here, not that long and full of personal detail and photos.This “History of Feedsacks” post on Alana’s Vintage Collectibles offers a nice summary and notes:

Magazines and pattern companies were quick to see a new market and were quick to produce patterns designed to fit efficiently on empty feedsacks.

via Gatsby and Me

There’s a lot out there once you start looking. I found this site (and several others) selling vintage feed sack cloth. A lot has been written as well on using feed sacks in quilts, the ultimate in textile upcyling. All these links about cloth feedsacks nearly made me forget the original impetus for my internet searching in the first place: burlap coffee sacks. There are 428 results for coffee sack on Etsy, mostly pillows and bags. They also make great hats.


One could get easily lost in all the neat newly upcycled stuff there is out there made of vintage sacks. At $10-12 a pop, they probably cost less than a lot of designer fabric and add a little story to whatever is made out of them.

May 1 is Decorative Dumpster Day 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

Attention trashies. Decorative Dumpster Day is just around the corner. This Sunday, May 1, Visible Trash, Olympia Dumpster Divers, and our colleagues in trash will take a day to post photos of and reflect upon the containers in which we store our waste. For reference, links to the first time we tried this can be found here and here.

This coming Sunday!

Earth Day

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day. To celebrate, I just watched the CBS News special on the very first Earth Day on YouTube. It ends somberly, as you can see here. And in some ways, not much has changed since 1970. Except, maybe, that environmental advocates have, in part, become more chic. One thing that struck me, watching these vintage clips, is how focused the activists were on big corporations and the major perpetrators of waste and pollution. That seems like a stark contrast to the hundreds of Earth Day emails and press releases I received this year, all pimping green products and encouraging very individualized actions geared at reducing my own little footprint. Did you do anything for Earth Day?

Flip flop round up

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

This unconsumption post on upcycled flip flops reminded me of a story I read in 2007 about Kenyan women building a giant whale out of the old slippers that washed up in their fishing villages. I recommend watching the BBC video on the project, it’s an amazing example of political art. I especially like the whale because, as I’ve mentioned here before, the flip flop jewelry and key chains I’ve seen are all overpriced and, in my personal opinion, not that cute. I do, however, love the way sun faded bits of flip flop add character to things sculpted out of them. There’s something whimsical about the material, which I think you get from the Studio Schneemann pieces in the unconsumption link; and, of course, evident in the official mascot, P.C. the Flip Flop Rhino.


A company called UniquEco made P.C. Or rather, Kenyan women made him and UniquEco put a snazzy label on his belly and made sure he was available for purchase at my favorite women’s collective shop in Kampala. UniquEco are based in Kenya and also have a life-sized whale made from washed up flip flops, which makes me think they may be connected to the original story.

In the U.S. TerraCycle and Old Navy are launching a campaign called Flip Flop Replay whereby you can drop your old flip flops off at Old Navy and TerraCycle will collect them and recycle them into play grounds. At first I thought that meant play ground mats. Then I saw the picture below. I don’t always love TerraCycle’s projects, but this one is just cool.

via TerraCycle

The power is yours

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Children of the 90’s, this one’s for you. Remember Captain Planet and the Planeteers? (Sing it with me: Captain Planet, he’s our hero. Gonna take pollution down to ze-ro!)

Best. Cartoon intro. Ever.

Just in time for Earth Day 2011, Shout! Factory is releasing Season One on DVD. Preorder it on Amazon here.

Season One DVD Box Set

I get asked to review a ton of crap on, but I have to say I was thrilled to receive the pitch for this product. My sister and I used to love this show. She’s almost five years younger but I think even as a kid she was aware of the abundant kitsch comedy: the contrived diversity, the earnest but nearly racist attempts at cultural sensitivity, the two-dimensional portrayal of environmental problems…we thought it was hilarious. Also, that theme song. So catchy.

For those not familiar with the show, Captain Planet explained environmental threats in a manner similar to the way the Bush administration explained terrorism: overly simplified and featuring a cartoon villain.

The premise: Gaya (aka Mother Earth, aka Whoopi Goldberg) selects one teenager each from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America and gives each a ring that allows them to control one of the four elements: Earth, Wind, Fire, Water. The indigenous kid from the Amazon gets the ambiguous but very meaningful power of “Heart.” The European delegate is a hot Russian blond. The North American speaks like a wise guy from 1940’s Brooklyn. LaVar Burton voices Kwame, the generic black African, with the appropriate amount of enthusiasm warranted by the gig (which is to say approximately 1/100,000,000th of the energy he poured into Roots). These are the Planeteers. When really bad guys — with names like Vermenous Skumm (voiced by Jeff Goldblum), Sly Sludge (Martin Sheen) and Dr. Blight (Meg Ryan)–come along and dump toxic waste where they shouldn’t or plot to raze ancient forests, the team has a secret weapon. When they pump a fist in the air and shout out their elemental power, light shoots from their magic rings and mingles to create Captain Planet, environmental superhero.

I kid, but where else were we going to see hero images that included brown people and women? I enjoyed rewatching the pilot and am saving the rest for a marathon with my sister. These DVDs would make a great gift for liberal parents and nostalgic 20 and 30 somethings.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Check out this heartwarming story from Brazil. Orismar de Souza was homeless. Over the course of four years, he begged and went hungry to buy the parts he needed and put them together to build his own car, aka the Shrimpmobile. With wheels comes status, so junk parts changed this man’s life.

Photo via Jalopnik

GrowNYC posters

Friday, April 8, 2011

Local nonprofit GrowNYC sends informative emails and has a fantastic website if you’re interested in innovative environmental programs. Sign up for their listserv or follow them on social media. My favorite tidbit from their most recent update is this cute poster series.

via GrowNYC

The Dumpster Project

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A friend sent me a link to this video today, but I don’t know which one because it arrived as a somewhat generic Vimeo link. Thanks, friend.

The artist’s website can be found here. Also, this reminds me that May 1st is Decorative Dumpster Day 2011.


Save the date, it’s going to be good.

Waste Land, the documentary

Friday, April 1, 2011

I have wanted to see Waste Land — Lucy Walker‘s documentary about Brooklyn-based Brazilian artist Vik Muniz and the huge trash portraits he created outside of Rio with help from local cartadores — for a while now. Somehow, I missed two or three chances to do so while the film screened in New York. Now, though, we all have another chance. Waste Land premiers on the PBS series Independent Lens on April 19th (check local listings). Or you can rent or stream it from Netflix here.

I got an advance review copy a while back and this past week had my friend Lisa over to watch it with me. Lisa is a sociologist who has lived for several years in India researching waste and water issues, which means she has spent a lot of time in dumps and with trash pickers (more on that to come in future posts).

I don’t want to belabor the review here. Short version: see this film. It made me cry. Twice. And I am not someone who cries easily.

The medium-length version: The storyline of Waste Land follows Muniz (via some slightly staged seeming Skype calls) setting up his project and getting others to help him execute his vision: to build large scale portraits of trash pickers using the trash they pick and getting those pickers to help him do it. Most of the film takes place outside of Rio at one of the world’s largest dump sites where you get to know an extremely compelling cast of characters who live and work there including a heartbreakingly young mother and the incredibly charismatic president of the cartadores association, which serves as a labor union and coop for the pickers.

Some interesting things I learned:

  • One, cartadores aren’t trash pickers. They are recyclable materials pickers.
  • Two, plastic is more lucrative to pick than glass according to the cartadores.
  • Three, Vik Muniz’ breakout show was a series of portraits called Sugar Children for which he created images of the children of sugar plantation workers out of sugar.

As an aside, during post-viewing Googleing, I found this story and video on Brazilian picker associations collecting used veggie oil.

Lucy Walker is also the filmmaker behind The Devil’s Playground, a fascinating look at Amish adolescence, which answered many of the burning questions I accumulated about the simple life during my teen years in Central PA. Definitely also worth seeing.

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