Most of us envision the blue bin with the white logo on it when we hear the word recycling. Andthat is a good thing because just a decade ago, the response would not have been nearly that quick or that uniform.
Hopefully, we all live somewhere where we are required to separate our garbage from our recyclables, which may include paper, glass, and plastics, depending on where we live. Judging by the frequency of garbage collection in my area, it would appear that we produce about four times the volume of trash as we do recyclables. That means we can recycle about 20% of what we have used. It’s a good start, but there are so many things that we can’t put out with our recyclables which could be given a new life and saved from the dump!
This building is home to American Reclaimed, which pursues the mission of finding unwanted historical relics and materials that have been aged and weathered, then recycling those items into walls, floors, furniture, and accessories, hand-built for your home. And they do some beautiful work. Here are some examples of their furniture, much of which was previously part of a barn or other outbuilding.
In addition to the pieces created by American Reclaimed, there are other decorative items for sale made by artists who share that same "recycling is good" mentality. Several impressive sculptures of quite realistic automobiles and motorcycles on display are made primarily of copper sheets and trimmed in some cases with recycled forks and kitchen utensils.
A trip to American Reclaimed is an exciting and inspiring experience. They are located in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, and their website is AReclaimed.com. One of the great things about this endeavor is that while these people are in business to make money, as the vast majority of us are, they are also keeping things still usable out of landfills and the dump. They give things like wooden beams, pine boards, trimmings from copper sheets, and old cast iron hardware a new lease on life. In a sense, they are upcycling them, transforming them from purely functional objects to artistic and decorative new items.
The town I live in has a service they provide about three times a year known as Big Trash Day. What is big trash? Those are the items you need to get rid of, but you don't want to give your garbage collector a nasty surprise when he arrives. But a few times a year, you can rest assured he or she has been warned and is ready for anything. On that day you can throw out your old kitchen chairs, the china cabinet from your mother-in-law's house, or even your childhood dresser that your mom saved for all those years. It’s a wonderful service to have access to, but the next stop is definitely the dump! And that’s a shame because properly refinished or even reimagined, many of those objects could have an entirely new life. Part of the fun of Big Trash Day is driving around town and seeing what you can save!
Fortunately, there are people who have the kind of vision and talent to see the potential in things that others do not. That is what Debbee Antonelli does at her store, My Happy Place, in Midland Park, NJ. Debbie is seen above at her happiest upcycling a vintage dresser. It will be reimagined entirely from its dark and sad origins to a light and cheerful piece of "shabbychic" décor.
For Debbee, this is a real labor of love. She finds old pieces of furniture, lamps, picture frames, wall hangings, and other older functional items and gives them a new look and a new lease on life. Her reputation is so strong that people seek her out and bring in their own older furniture and commission her to reinvent them! Of course, she begins by cleaning and fixing them to stand firm for the next few decades and then decorates them in a way their original designers could have never imagined. I asked Debbee for her email address, but she told me she does not have one because it is too much of a time-waster. If you wish you find out more about her, you can text her (and text only) at 551 427-4772, or visit her on Facebook at myhappyplacegiftshop.
I started this story today by talking about that classic blue recycling bin. Let me return to that bin one more time today. This time, we'll discuss a product whose creator is so committed to the concept of recycling that he designed his packaging to optimize it both for safely delivering his product and for ensuring that it can be quickly and effectively recycled. This is Siggi's Yogurt.
Siggi's is not just another yogurt but skyr, Icelandic for a very thick yogurt. His label features a longer list of items his yogurt does NOT contain than items it does contain! He knows that to recycle the plastic part of his container correctly, it should not have labels stuck to it. So the container is plastic, as is the lid, and the label is paper. But it is clearly marked where to tear it to remove it from the plastic container leaving not a single mark (except for the recycling number that is molded into the bottom of the container). By the way, when you tear off the paper label, Siggi has used the back of the label to give you a few Icelandic recipes that all happen to use yogurt! Siggi's mom did not raise any fools!
Going The Extra Mile
The American Reclaimed people, Debbee Antonelli and Siggi's, are all running successful commercial businesses. But they each have also decided to go the extra mile by seeing that their work keeps things out of the world's landfills and dumps. The world will be a better place if we all think about it and make it a part of how we think and act.
Last week we talked about Buckminster Fuller and explained our planet earth was like a spaceship hurtling through the universe. It is the only spaceship we have. If we use it up or pollute it, we are in real trouble. One of his best-known suggestions was, "do more with less." I think all of the people we spoke about today can help us to realize that goal. And if you don’t happen to live here in the Northern New Jersey area, I am sure you can find craftspeople, artists, and business people in your area who share the same values as the talented people we have presented today. Meanwhile, remember to use that blue bin! By each doing a little, we can accomplish a lot.