Archive for the ‘Trashtastic Tuesdays’ Category

Trashtastic Tuesday with Professor Robin Nagle

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Robin Nagle

Last month, I attended a lecture on the history of sanitation in New York City given by Dr. Robin Nagle, a professor of anthropology at NYU co-teaching a class on making a museum AND holder of the supercool title “Anthropologist in Residence” for New York City’s Department of Sanitation. Today, Professor Nagle has been kind enough to answer some follow-up questions for the very exciting revivial of Trashtastic Tuesdays, everyone’s favorite irregular weekly blog feature!

everydaytrash: As an anthropologist, what drew you to the subject of trash?

Nagle: I was originally drawn to the subject of trash through one central question that continues to inspire and confound me. How is it that we are content to “throw” “away” our garbage with little or no regard for what happens to it next? Subsidiary questions grow from that. Just what does happen next? Who picks it up? What’s it like to pick it up? Where does it go? How does it get there? Then what happens?

Luckily for me, each answer opens a new bundle of fascinating questions.

everydaytrash: How does one become the anthropologist-in-residence for the city’s sanitation department and what does that job entail?

Nagle: One bombs as a sanitation worker but wants to maintain a title within the DSNY, so one proposes “anthropologist-in-residence” to enable one to draw on one’s training, one’s experience within the DSNY, and one’s larger goals within the context of the Department.

The job entails good old-fashioned fieldwork — taking part in parade clean-ups, snow storm responses, hanging with people on their rounds, interviewing current and retired employees. It also entails putting together the nuts and bolts that will one day be the DSNY Museum. And it entails writing about the DSNY — its work, its mission its history.


On the job


everydaytrash: I visited the student exhibit, Loaded Out: Making a Museum. In your ideal world, what would a full-fledged sanitation museum look like?

Nagle: A full-fledged DSNY Museum will have permanent and revolving exhibitions that reveal the fascinating history of sanitation and public health in the context of urban America and especially in the context of New York City. At least one exhibit will always focus on some aspect of the work involved in keeping New York alive by keeping the city’s streets clean. And the DSNY Museum will house the Wall of Honor, which lists all employees who have been killed in the line of duty since the Department came into being in 1881.

The museum will have educational initiatives that will appeal to school children, scholars, and everyone in between. It will include historic and contemporary equipment, trucks, carts, sweepers, mechanical brooms, flushers, wreckers, uniforms, tools. There will archives in digital and hardcopy form that will hold all sanitation-related material we can collect from within New York City, and that will point to related resources in other places.

The museum space itself, which will be vibrant, colorful, and welcoming, will be used for community and DSNY-related events, including meetings of the DSNY benevolent societies and DSNY pipe-and-drum band rehearsals.

Phew! It’s a big dream. But you gotta start somewhere.

Photos ripped from the and DSNY Web sites.

Trashtastic Tuesday with Raz Godelnik

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This week on Trashtastic Tuesday, we check in with Raz Godelnik of Eco-Libris, a green business encouraging readers to off-set the paper consumed by their book-buying by donating money to plant trees in developing countries.


everydaytrash: How did you come up with the idea of Eco-Libris?

Godelnik: It all started when I was thinking about paper and the environmental impacts of its production. I realized it might take a while to get to the point where eco-friendly alternatives (from the use of recycled paper to e-books) will replace virgin paper. Then, I talked with some friends about the idea of giving people the opportunity to balance out their paper consumption by planting trees and received good feedback about it.

The decision to focus on books was made after learning that only about 5% of the paper used for printing books is made of recycled paper and because most books don’t have yet any online eco-friendly alternative (e-book) like magazines and newspapers have. So if you want a book, you usually can’t avoid purchasing the paper-made version, unless you go to the library or get it from places like, which are both excellent choices. You also can’t tell people to stop reading books, so it seems only natural to give book lovers a new alternative to make their reading habits greener – planting trees for the books they read.

everydaytrash: How did you find and select planting partners?

Godelnik: We are very picky about our planting partners as we want to make sure the right species of trees are planted in the right places in collaboration with local communities. We conducted an extensive and in-depth selection process to find the right partners that included review of many criteria to ensure the quality of the plantings, such as the specific species that are planted, locations of planting, mixed forest, usage of native species, monitoring and management plans of the plantings, etc.

Eventually we chose 3 non-profit organizations – Sustainable Harvest International (SHI), RIPPLE Africa and The Alliance for International Reforestation (AIR). These are highly respected organizations, registered in the US and the UK, which plant trees in the highest ecological and sustainability standards in Latin America and Africa. In these areas, deforestation is a crucial problem, and planting trees not only helps conserve soil and water, but also raises the ecological awareness of the local communities for whom these trees offer many benefits and an opportunity for a better future. All the planting operations are being conducted in full collaboration with the local communities.

everydaytrash: How many books have you off-set/trees have you planted since starting up your operation?

Godelnik: We have balanced out so far more than 3,500 books. Each book is balanced out by planting one tree (actually we plant via our planting partners 1.3 trees for every book to maximize the chances that 1 tree will reach maturity). Our goal is to balance out half a million books by the end of 2008

everydaytrash: What about other forms of paper waste? Do you have plans to expand this concept into the corporate world to encourage companies to off-set office paper waste?

Godelnik: At the moment we’re focused only on books because of the reasons I talked about earlier and also because we feel that being focused on one major issue helps us to make our message and call for action more powerful. We also want to inspire people and organizations to balance out books as their first stop on the road to sustainability. On the personal level, it means to continue from balancing out books to starting to reduce the whole household’s paper consumption. The same goes with organizations in the book publishing industry, from publishers to bookstores. In any case, in the future, we will definitely consider to expand our call for action into other areas that use paper unsustainably.

Photos courtesy of RIPPLE Africa, Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) and The Alliance for International Reforestation (AIR).

Trashtastic Thursday with Harry J. Bubbins

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Trashtastic Tuesday comes early this week (or late, depending on your world view). Note that the everydaytrash post flow may trickle down next week. I’ll be in Budapest. Stay tuned for stories of Euro and post-Communist trash. In the meantime…

I got an email yesterday from Harry J. Bubbins of Friends of Brook Park in the Bronx. The subject line read “Garbage Takes the Train BS” and the content below was a little back and forth between neighborhood environmental justice activists declaring a blurb from the “propaganda”. I read the blurb, then emailed Harry for more info on his group and concerns. Here’s what he had to say about trash in the Bronx and the sad fact that in our city of islands, it’s pretty freakin’ hard to access the water.


everydaytrash: So, I heard the city is now using trains to transport trash OUT of the Bronx, what about the trash coming IN?

Harry J. Bubbins: The Bronx, and specifically the South South Bronx, the Port Morris and Mott Haven neighborhoods handle almost all the garbage. Besides the borough waste, we handle trash from Manhattan and Queens as well. This is because the Mayor’s Solid Waste Management Plan, approved by the NYC Council has been stalled by three Upper West Side State legislators who refuse to handle Manhattan’s waste in Manhattan. The direct outcome of their recalcitrance is an increase of diesel truck traffic in the most at-risk for asthma communities and a dream deferred for a significant step towards environmental justice.


everydaytrash: What are the Harlem River Rail Yards?

Bubbins: The Harlem River Rail yards refer to the 96 acres site at the southern most tip of the Bronx that is owned by the people of New York through the NYS Department of Transportation. This site has been leased for 99 years for a sweetheart deal to Galesi Grouo, whose head was involved with Enron and such. They in turn sublease to Waste Management, the largest and most profitable waste handler in the hemisphere. WM was recently awarded a no bid contract for $1 billion to handle the NYC waste, despite providing no local amenities and an almost year long labor strike in 2006. We are at the mercy of this monopoly for carting out our waste. Currently, there is no public access along the waterfront of the Rail Yards, despite contractual obligations in the lease to provide access to the river and a bridge to Randall’s Island for South Bronx residents. We’d like to see 1,000 trees planted along the truck route corridors, public access to the waterfront, an environmental center, and green affordable housing in the yards footprint.


everydaytrash: How did the Friends of Brook Park waterfront project come about? How are plans progressing?

Bubbins: Our waterfront initiatives have emerged from over a decade of fighting against a disproportionate amount of polluting facilities and to advance a more holistic vision for our communities. In the aftermath of the successful effort by the then South Bronx Clean Air Coalition to shut down the BFI medical waste incinerator, we realized that a community led vision for the waterfront would serve to provide resources to local residents and visitors and help to pre-empt the polluting industries that are often located in lower income and people of color neighborhoods. Nevertheless, Governor Pataki saw fit to place not one but four power plants in Port Morris, and we have huge waster transfer stations across the shores from the East River to the Harlem River and no benefit whatsoever. In addition, a public bus depot was closed, the buses sent to park and storage in Harlem, the site was turned over to the non-artisan NY Post and hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies fueled that. Now, Fed Ex has closed down on the west side of Manhattan to make way for luxury housing and been given bonds and public subsidies to build a huge trucking facility which will bring more traffic and few if any jobs since the employees from Manhattan will be coming here.


We targetted five priorities, rebuilding a fishing pier destroyed by Con Ed, an eco art center, the bridge to Randall’s Island under the Amtrak viaduct, 2 street end access points, and a park on the Harlem River. All efforts are proceeding at various paces, with Sustainable South Bronx leading the way by spearheading the South Bronx Greenway which will achieve easier access to Randall’s Island. Our Harlem River park project, in partnership with Nyers for Parks and NY Restoration Project is moving forward thanks to support from our elected officials at every level. We have designs, have obtained seed funding through the NYS Environmental Protection Fund and are negotiating for rail access and an agreement to manage the site for community programming and recreation.


Pictures via the Friends of Brook Park site

The Return of Trashtastic Tuesday

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Tuesdays haven’t been so trashtastic lately, mostly due to the overwhelming schedule of my day job compounded by my Middle Eastern father’s annual month-plus-long visit.  For those of you worried that this weekly feature had died, never fear!  My friend Joe in San Fran has been hooking me up remotely with quality trash content from the other coast.  The other day he emailed me a link to a new bandshell in a nearby park made by local artists from waste materials.  I just had to know more about this initiative, so I looked up Will Chase, a local artist and coconspirator in the Panhandle Bandshell Project.


everydaytrash: How did you come up with the idea for the bandshell?


Will Chase: We’d gotten word that the SF Department of the Environment was offering grants through the Black Rock Arts Foundation for art installations made of recycled, reused and repurposed materials in three San Francisco parks: the project is called ScrapEden SF. Our team (The Finch Mob Arts Collective and REBAR arts collective) decided to go for the grant. We were brainstorming different types of installations that would work well in San Francisco’s Panhandle Park, and one of our crew, Marcus Guillard, threw out the idea of a bandshell. Of all the ideas we’d come up with — most of which were passive installations — the idea of a bandshell really resonated. Particularly because it’s interactive, community-oriented, participatory, and … well … a lot of us are performers of various sorts, and it would be fun to have a stage on which to perform. The key to the decision was that the idea resonated with everybody very strongly. That’s how ideas take life, and can be converted into action.

everydaytrash: Where did you find the materials?


Chase: We collected 65 car hoods (for the skin) from auto dismantlers and junk yards around the Bay Area. The 7 I-Beams that make up the foundation of the structure were reclaimed from a winery in Napa that had been demo’d … we got them via a steel distributor in Fresno. The structural steel for the arches was second-hand scrap from a steel foundry. The 60 French doors that make up the stage deck were from a school near Stanford … we got them via a repurposed building materials outfit called Building Resource (we also got our decorative streetlight lenses there). The doors were in-filled and our deck framed using lumber from a wood recycling company called the Reuse People, and a lot of our plywood and wood came from dismantling 8-foot storage crates from a Public Storage warehouse that was getting rid of them. The 3,000 plastic water bottles that make up the back wall were collected from a local live music club (The Independent), a spa (Bliss), and a big running Race (Bay to Breakers), as well as our personal friends. Finally, the several-hundred circuit boards that create the decorative facade over the arches came from a local junk redistributor called Ace Auto Dismantlers.

everydaytrash: Who has been taking advantage of the bandshell so far?

Chase: A little of everybody and everything. We’ve had live music, dance, theatre, vaudeville, spoken word, story telling for little kids, a capella opera singers, comedians, you name it. We also built four aerial pick-points into the front-most arch, so we’ve had aerialists perform on hoop and trapeze, too. It’s been very gratifying to see people really enjoying it as a performance stage, as well as appreciating it as an art installation. While the bandshell is open to anybody to use anytime during its open hours, many people book their performances, which you can see here.


everydaytrash: I see that it’s only up temporarily, are there plans in the work to repeat this or similar projects?

Chase: Our goal is to find a permanent home for the bandshell, most likely in another San Francisco park that is less proximate to neighboring residents. It was build modularly, so the whole thing can be dismantled, put onto a semi truck, taken anywhere, and assembled in three days with a wrench and a screwdriver … and a forklift. 😉 That said, the Finch Mob and REBAR are open to commissions to create similar installations wherever they may be wanted. We’re very interested in creating participatory, aesthetically-beautiful, civic installations that foster community through the arts. Anybody interested can contact me at


Photos by Will Chase (first two) and Marcus Guillard (third).

Trashtastic Tuesday with Miss Malaprop

Monday, July 9, 2007

malaprop.jpg This week Trashtastic Tuesday features Miss Malaprop, a pioneer of “Trashion”.

everydaytrash: What is a “Trashion street team” and how did you get involved?

Miss Malaprop:, an online marketplace for all things handmade, has all sorts of member organized “street teams” who try to help get the word out about Etsy and their own shops there.  The site is just 2 years old and very community oriented, so the street teams are a great way for members who live in certain regions or have similar interests to join up and spread the word about their work.

I believe the Trashion Street Team formed sometime during or shortly after Etsy sponsored an “upcycling” contest this past January.  The challenge was for users to create something beautiful and functional out of materials that otherwise would have been thrown away or recycled.  There were over a thousand entries, and everyone got really into the “upcycling” idea.  Some of us decided to create a street team devoted to this idea, terming our work “Trashion”.  As in, trash + fashion = Trashion.  Of course for our group that’s not just limited to recycled clothing and jewelry.  We have members who create just about anything you can think of using recycled & “upcycled” materials.

everydaytrash: What kind of politics and values go into your work?

Miss Malaprop: The more I get into the green movement and become more conscious of my environmental footprint, the more creative I become.  Lately every little thing I throw away makes me think, “how can I turn this into something functional and fun?”

I’ve always been interested in environmental issues (I tried to start an environmental club when I was in 4th grade), but lately I’ve really been trying to make some changes and reduce my impact as much as possible.

Since Hurricane Katrina, I’ve also been creating a lot more New Orleans and fleur-de-lis themed pieces, as a show of support for the area’s recovery and to help remind people elsewhere how far we still have to go.  (And that yes, it is worth saving and fighting for.)

everydaytrash: What’s your favorite piece you’ve reimagined from trash?

Miss Malaprop: I think it would have to be the outfit I made from recycled FEMA blue tarp for the Etsy upcycling contest [pictured above].  I won 3rd place in the contest because of it (out of more than a thousand entries, remember), and I got a lot of press and the chance to attend the Maker Faire in San Francisco because of it.  Plus I was just really pleased with the way it turned out.  I’d made an outfit from blue tarp before, for a local fundraiser, but I really liked this piece because it was made from discarded offical FEMA tarp and it helped bring some attention to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast area.

Related links: – indie finds for your uncommon life

dismantled designs – original and reconstructed clothing & accessories

New Orleans Craft Mafia

Etsy Trashion

Trashtastic Tuesday with Paul Gargagliano

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

trashwood2.jpg May-June is a horrifying season of waste on and near college campuses. Around this time of year, the over-satiated and less than imaginative undergraduates of our nation drag pounds upon pounds of perfectly good stuff to the curb simply because it won’t fit into their station wagons and storage lockers, or because it’s less of a hassle to just buy a new one next year.

Having grown up on a series of college campuses, this phenomneon particularly bums me out. Seeing piles of couches and text books, plastic storage bins and metal clothes hangers lining the streets of my town at the end of Spring Semester was a yearly reminder of the temporary and disposable view my quadranual roation of neighbors had for our community. This year, however, I am heartened. My friend Lydia lives in Philadelphia where she knows a guy named Paul Gargagliano. Paul Gargagliano, Lydia tells me, goes around on his bike salvaging the stuff tossed aside by the young and the wasteful. Hearing this, I had to know more. And so another Trashtastic Tuesday begins…

everydaytrash: How do you find the curbside items you reuse? Do you happen upon them, go out hunting, round up friends to help?

Paul Gargagliano: Here in West Philadelphia, come late May you have to try hard not to find great trash on the side of the road. At this special time, known as Penn Christmas to some, students at the University of Pennsylvania move away, and the school renovates building after building. Over the past three years UPenn students and the school itself have worked together to clothe and feed me, they have provided me with the materials to create shelter, given me artistic inspiration, made me wonder in awe at wealth accumulation and brought me many moments of unexpected joy. All up and down the streets of University City students create unweildy piles of bagged and unbagged goods. The university fills dumpsters with old furniture and leftover building materials. Most of the trash picking I do is with my friend Ben on Sunday and Monday nights, but I also go out alone. We almost exclusively travel by bicycyle. Ben is a little more selective than I am, which means that he tends to make it back to the house first because I’m so loaded down that I can barely pedal. I take a lot of things that I might never use because I can’t bear imagining the maw of a garbage truck crushing them up. Case in point, I recently brought home a baby monitor hoping I guess that somebody knew somebody who needed one. When we find wood we come home and get the car. Sometimes I’ll hide a larger item in an alley to come back for it with a vehicle.

everydaytrash: What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever found and salvaged?

Gargagliano: Rather here is a list of my favorite finds off the top of my head: a 1.5 liter orange Le Creuset sauce pan, a big red internal frame backpack that a friend is carrying around India right now, a delicious sheep’s milk cheese that I could never afford called Ewephoria, a massive maple lab table, a 36 cubby unit made out of oak ply that I put all my clothing in, a hefty Webster’s dictionary, over 1000 dollars worth of textbooks that a friend and I dutifully resold, 1 half bottle of Pimm’s liquor something I never would have tried otherwise.

everydaytrash: What sorts of things have you made out of the discarded items you salvage?

Gargagliano: Currently I am typing at an L shaped desk that Ben and I made out of laminated oak and and old maple lab table. Ben and I both made our beds, desks, and bedside tables out of salvaged wood.

everydaytrash: Do you think people become more or less wasteful as they become more educated?…as they age?

Gargagliano: I think that a person’s wastefulness is linked more directly to her relationship to consumer culture and the commodity fetish. If you believe that shopping is a valid passtime, then you will be forced to make room for the new things that you are constantly purchasing and bringing into your home. If you have no connection at all to the labor required to make a given object then you tend to invest much less in its maintenance and you toss it into the trash more readily. There are ways in which certain types of education about labor might bring out a consciousness of the commodity fetish and consumer culture, but an education at UPenn undergrad or at the school of dentistry, these things, have proven to create a rather wasteful class of people. Older people are often more jaded in general. They see through commercials that try to get them to spend their money here and there. And thus, they buy fewer things and throw away fewer things.


Trashtastic Tuesday: The Language of Trash

Monday, June 11, 2007

  This week on Trashtastic Tuesday, we take a moment to examine the word choice of trash talk.  In discussing our respective passions for the narrow yet highly bloggable subjects of chocolate and trash, my friend Emily Stone and I decided to dedicate a post each to language.  Below is a compilation of links to what the experts have to say about garbology, the concept of zero waste, sustainability and solid waste.  These are terms essential to the understanding of broader trash issues.  [Editor’s note:  In fact, if everydaytrash were a European blog, I would long ago have been kicked off the Internet for failing to define the key terms up front before marching on to present a solid argument in outline form.  Aplogies to any Europeans I may have confused in the past, consider this a new leaf.] 

Check out Chocolate in Context for a parellel glossery (with far more original reporting, I might add).  And while you’re over there, vote for Emily.  She’s <this> close to a free trip to California from some contest called “Grill Me.”

  • Wikipedia, almighty Internet resource, compiles the goods on garbology, the archeological study of people via sifting through what they throw away;
  • Gary Liss of the Grass Roots Recycling Network (GRRN) lays out the top resources on zero waste, the jihad againt excess;
  • Green fashion diva fiftyRx3 defines sustainability, the quest for lasting solutions to environmental problems;
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency redefines solid waste, the kind of trash the government collects.

Clip art from

Trashtastic Tuesday with the Composting Crew

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

compost11.jpg This week on Trashtastic Tuesday, we check in with some Middle Schoolers at the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies. This year, the students are taking part in a “Cafeteria Expedition,” an interactive project to improve and better understand school cafeterias. Alex Perez, Stephanie Rodriguez, Steven Ruiz, Grabriella Bobe and T.J. Bodden—members of the 8th grade composting crew—were nice enough to take the time to answer a few questions for everydaytrash.

everydaytrash: Why should a school like yours have a composting program?

Composting Crew: The reason why all schools should have a composting program is because we generate a lot of waste and composting can reduce that amount.



everydaytrash: How does reducing waste help your school?

Composting Crew: Because we are making it into something useful.




everydaytrash: How did you choose what kind of composting system to use?

Composting Crew: We went to the Botanic Gardens and saw what different kinds of composting bins that they had and choose which one we liked and would be best for our needs.

everydaytrash: What kinds of materials did you need to get started?

Composting Crew: We needed pallets, screws, nails, buckets, and waste. We had the pallets donated by Lowe’s and we carried them back to school.



everydaytrash: Who uses the composting soil you create?

Composting Crew: Every single person in our school will be able to use it. The first will be the grade school kids who will use it for their planters. After that we will donate it to locals for their gardens. Thank you for showing interest in our project. We learned a lot from this Cafeteria Expedition.


Photos courtesy of the incomparable Peter Hoppmann—friend, neighbor and middle school teacher extraordinaire.

Trashtastic Tuesday with Robin Worley

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

small-orange-mesh.jpg  I connected with designer Robin Worley, one of the founders of the trash to fashion movement in America, over email after she noticed some of my posts and I noticed her organizaiton’s Web site.  She kindly agreed to share the origin story of trash to fashion as subject #3 in our ongoing series of Trashtastic Tuesdays.

everydaytrash:  How did you become involved in the trash fashion world? 

Robin Worley:  It all began in Nevada City, Californiain 1983 with a woman named Susan Lamela, a.k.a. Polly Ethelina, and a show called “On the Cutting Edge”. It was a social science experiment. I modeled for Polly in the second show she did which took place in 1986 and featured the work of three designers, Polly E., Mr. Perception and Mary X. This was the humble beginnings of Haute Trash & eventually the Haute Trash Artist’s Collaborative, a Non-Profit Organization of which I am currently V.P.

everydaytrash:  What was the first show you took part in or organized? 

Worley:  I modeled in [On the Cutting Edge] and then was a designer for the first time in next show called Hot Trash 8-8-88 (it was on Aug. 8th, 1988) and then Trash Tech in 1989 and Haute Trash, Objet Trouvé Fashion in 1990.  With each show the number of designers increased…In 1988 I moved to the Big Island of Hawaii, commuting back and forth to do the shows in California when I connected with Trash Artist Ira Ono and the beginnings of a Trash Art movement in the Hawaiian Islands. The first show I produced was a runway show of seven of my own pieces at the East Hawaii Cultural Center in Hilo for the very first Art of Trash Gala Opening in September 1991.


everydaytrash:  How has the community of designers evolved and expanded over the years? 

Worley:  Over the time that we have been at this we’ve seen a lot of evolution!  It was a popular theme in the “Techno-Era” that we started in, but now it really seems like an idea whose time has come. We didn’t really know anyone else who was doing what we do back then. Now we discover new trash fashion designers all over the world all the time thanks to the internet.  That is, or they find us. We have a website it’s www.hautetrash.orgThere is a competition in New Zealand [and others in Portland, Seattle and Ontario, Canada]…just by our experiences this past year I can say Trash Fashion is everywhere we look these days, the community of trash fashion designers is now nation wide. All these competitions and group shows attract new designers or designers working with trash as a new medium, so it’s only going to grow. 


everydaytrash:  Do runway shows of novelty trash outfits have an impact on the fashion industry or the environment? 

Worley:  I’d like to think so. Our fashion show seems to have quite an impact on everyone who sees it. So I hope the industry will take notice soon!  We make an impact on the people, and they make an impact on the industry and the environment.  I think this is especially true when we go into the schools and meet with the next generation. We learn as much as we share usually, if not more. The kids today are living in a whole different world than the computer-free one I grew up in. I recently taught Trash Fashion to a group of Fashion Design and Marketing students at an occupational high school near Seattle. We took a tour of the local recycling plant and then they all created beautiful and thoughtful pieces that were shown at a Fashion Show for the Washington D.E.C.A. marketing club convention which had about 3,800 kids in the audience. I could tell by the response that these students agreed with the idea of using green marketing as a tool for social change. As the emcee I gave examples in my intro like the GAP’s red clothing marketing campaign to raise money and awareness to the global AIDS crisis, or the Pink Ribbon Campaign against Breast Cancer. 

There’s a definite shift happening. The fashion industry is considering the environment now too. But whether or not we are of any influence, it’s great to see how much of the fashion magazines are filled with green thinking. What was once alternative is now turning mainstream. Green Marketing is the in thing. Safeway has its own line of Organics. Barney’s has a line of organic cottons. What the people buy is what really affects the industry. Pretty simple…Recycling is all good and well, but what about just never using all that packaging and disposable convenience stuff in the first place? In Europe manufacturers are held accountable for the amount of waste that will be generated by the packaging around their products. In America 94% of the materials extracted for use in manufacturing durable products become waste before the product is even manufactured. And then, 80% of what we manufacture is thrown away within six months of production…That’s embarrassing if nothing else. 


everydaytrash:  Who are some of your favorite trash designers? 

Worley:  Polly Ethelina of course. She had the vision. Elvira Mental Werks because of the detail they put into their designs, Prima Debris because of her “trash purist” approach to design, Redussa d’Trash, Racey Garbaj, Redeema Debris, Mr. Trashwell, Wayward Girls Productions, Eve and the House of Original Sin, Chacko, Ruby Reusable, the designers of Troupe de Trash….there are so many it’s hard to list them all.  Nancy Judd of Pulp Fashion is amazing. All the designers at the Junk to Funk Competition were quite excellent. The Waitakere competition is outrageous! John Galliano does some amazing stuff. I wish I had his budget. But then it wouldn’t be trash fashion if I bought materials.


Photos curtosey of Robin Worley.  The Orange Construction Fence Gown designed by Elvira Mental Werks and Modeled by Rayona Visqueen (Robin Worley); Fashion on a Budget (shower curtain, torn parachute and red caution tape) Modeled by Jeanne and designed by Rayona Visqueen; River Raft Rendevous (strapless Ball gown created from a destroyed 2 man river raft with inflatable baffle hem) designed and modeled by Rayona Visqueen; and New York Times Bags Cocktail Dress and Tuxedo with Blueprint paper pants Designed by Prima and Redeema Debris and modeled by Val and Redeema.

Trashtastic Tuesday with Joshua Goldstein

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


beijing-hutong.jpg This week, Trashtastic Tuesday features trash professor Joshua Goldstein whose research focuses on waste management and garbage pickers in China throughout radically different political periods. Josh was nice enough to share his insight on everything from the upcoming Beijing Olympics to the pros and cons of modern garbage collection. Fascinating stuff.

everydaytrash: How many “garbage pickers” currently work in the Beijing area? 

Professor Joshua Goldstein: There are no definitive statistics on the number of pickers, and to some extent it also depends on how you define “pickers.” If you define pickers as folks working in landfills picking, then the number is probably just a couple thousand; if you include street pickers and folks who purchase post-consumer scrap from residents and businesses and then sell that scrap at recycling markets, the number is probably between 200,000-300,000. If you include garbage collectors and street sweepers who pick and sell on the side as well as residents (often the elderly) who regularly pick scrap from their neighborhoods for some extra cash, the number would easily exceed 350,000.

everydaytrash:  How has the role of migrant garbage pickers evolved in recent Chinese history?

Goldstein: The migrant recyclers are the heart of the recycling sector in Beijing and have taken over the sector from the municipal state-owned recycling bureau. Over the last several years the state has stopped violently repressing and detaining most of these peasant migrants. Instead the Beijing government is using different indirect methods to formalize migrant recycling activities, such as more strictly regulating scrap markets, restricting the use of bicycle carts (the recycler’s main method of moving goods), and restricting the opening of collection points. The state has essentially given up on competing with the migrants and has moved to trying to regulate them effectively.

everydaytrash: How is China’s preparation for the upcoming Olympics affecting their livelihood?

Goldstein: It’s hard to say, and that’s part of what I hope to do some research into. My sense is, it hasn’t had a huge effect in any straight–forward way. the plan had been, it seemed back around 2000, that the municipal government would take over the sector, displace most of the migrant bosses and radically reduce the migrant involvement in the trade and replace them with unemployed Beijing residents or with state-allied and more easily managed companies. But these efforts to curtail, reduce, and coopt migrants in this sector seems to have failed and the state appears to have given up on this goal. Now it seems trying to regulate what exists is their main goal, and then probably in Summer 2008 there will be massive controls put on all recycling activity…as well as upon almost every other activity in Beijing.

everydaytrash: Is the informal garbage collection system in China corrupt, crime-filled and run by gangs?

Goldstein: There is certainly a lot of crime and corruption; this is a tricky question in a Socialist Market economy that in itself is oxymoronic and riddled with contradictions and “grey market” activities. Everyday gang activity and violence around the scrap yards seem to have lessened over the last several years. For example, it was common that gangs would charge fees on any truck entering a scrap yard; but the yards are far more organized, with weigh-scales and guards etc., and that sort of blatant threatening activity has dwindled. But certainly bosses all have experience with corruption, insider information, etc. I am quite ignorant about this side of things still…folks don’t talk about it at all openly.

everydaytrash: Are garbage pickers more efficient/better for the environment than government-run national recycling programs?

Certainly migrants are much more efficient, and the migrant sector is huge and laborers come from relatively poor parts of the countryside, so the social value of having migrants doing this work is quite great. Environmentally…there are so many aspects to that question. Overall, my sense is that between the migrant system and the state’s there is hardly any meaningful difference environmentally speaking. Whether the scrap is state or migrant collected, it generally gets trucked out to second tier cities where environmental regulations are not enforced and the secondary processing factories do major damage.

everydaytrash: Are there laws in place to protect the rights of migrant workers in China?

Goldstein: There are beginning to be, and there are some social services being developed as well; but these are all very recent, weak, and not very highly publicized. Migrants have far more freedom than even just a few years ago. Up to around 2000 they were still basically like illegal aliens in cities such as Beijing where household registration laws were quite strictly enforced. Now they are free to settle in the city, send their kids to schools, etc, but they still face many administrative and economic barriers.


Photo by Jan Egil Kirkebo.

Trashtastic Tuesday with Ruby Re-usable

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

ruby11.jpgruby3.jpgruby21.jpg Welcome to Trashtastic Tuesday, the first in an ongoing series of Q & A’s with trash personalities. In preparing for a week of interviews with trash artists, two things occurred to me. First, artists are not the best at meeting deadlines. Second, why burn good material all in one week and dilute the thoughtful commentary of those in the trash world I most respect by jamming their interviews into a single jamboree of formatted questions and answers? Et voila. Behold the first trashtastic post, a conversation with Diane Kurzyna, a.k.a. Ruby Re-usable, an inspirational artist based out of Olympia, Washington and a garblogger in her own right.

everydaytrash: What inspired you to use trash in your art?

Kurzyna: I have used “trash” materials in my art for a long time, I grew up by the dumps of New Jersey…I specifically used trash materials when I was a freshman in high school (Kearny High, class of ’76) to make a figurine out of a frozen concentrate can, a burnt-out light bulb, plastic cutlery, and some wire that was laying around the art room. The art room was being packed up to move to a new building, and all the “good” supplies were inaccessible, so this was part necessity/part novelty. As a sophmore in college (Rutgers U, class of ’81), I collaborated on a 3 woman weaving that was “anything but wool,” using unnatural materials found in the garbage or gutter or garage as a protest against the earthtone pallette that was prevelant at the time. I tried to use more traditional materials when I was an art student at theUniversity of Washington, but was compelled to return to my roots as a trash artist, inspired by Northwest artists like Ross Palmer Beecher, Buster Simpson, and especially Marita Dingus. Using trash to make art is a challenge that I embrace: using precious materials to make art seems so easy and obvious, but to make art from trash is like making a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

everydaytrash: What’s your favorite piece of trash art by another artist?

Kurzyna: Oh my, there are so many, but I would have to say that Northwest artist Marita Dingus is my favorite trash artist, she is fearless when it comes to using stuff most people throw away! My favorite piece by her is “Buddha as a Captured Slave,” which is 60′ long. It was shown at theMuseum of Glass in Tacoma, WA:

everydaytrash: Does using unwanted and discarded material in art count as recycling?

Kurzyna: Oh, yes, using unwanted and discarded materials means I am not buying supplies new, I am not adding to the waste stream, and I am transforming them into something else. When I work with kids and show them how to make art from discards, it causes them to rethink what is junk; it also sparks creative problem solving. Trash artists are alchemists, turning base materials into gold.

everydaytrash: Is trash a political medium?


Kurzyna: It can be. I think the reasons artists make art from trash are as varied as the artists themselves. I make art from trash as an enviro-political statement, calling attention to human inguenity as well as human excess. The trash I specifically use is related to my life as an angry housewife, so the medium is also a feminst statement. I try to live by the motto: Make Art Not Waste!


Photos provided by the artist:

“Portrait of the Artist as a Jewish Mother” 2004 (top), “Bag Lady at the Freewall” 2006 and Renascene” installation 2007.

Check them out on her web site as well, this site is being funky with photos, which makes it tricky to share big ones with you without distorting them into long, skinny streaks!

Check back next week for another installment of Trashtastic Tuesday.

This is a blog about trash.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

This is a blog about Oscar the Grouch. It’s about the smoke of burning trash piles wafting through every developing country in the world. It’s about the billions of dollars a year spent exporting garbage from one state to another. It’s about diving into a dumpster and coming up with a still-warm burger and three packets of mustard. It’s about detonating landmines with old truck tires and building bookshelves out of milk crates. It’s about barges. It’s about battery acid. It’s about paying sixty bucks for a change purse made of soda can tabs because the label says a women’s group in Latin America glued them together. It’s about sorting plastics. It’s about beaches built on landfills and landfills built on beaches. It’s about the “away” in throw away and the “out” in toss out and the “rid” in get rid of it. This is a blog about the art, money, power, politics, people and literature of garbage. It’s a subject that shocks and amuses me nearly every day, which is about how often I imagine I’ll be posting. I hope you’ll share in the fascination.

%d bloggers like this: