From Treasure to Trash to Treasure

From Treasure to Trash to Treasure

• Tigger Montague

Stories are the foundation of humankind, as told around fire pits and wood smoke for ages.  They are the myths that have permeated every culture, they are the lessons of Master passed onto apprentice, tales told at bedtime, the fables read from books.  We are our stories.

Joseph Campbell, in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, writes:

“It has always been the prime function of mythology and story-telling to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward…”

One of my responsibilities with Seeds for Kindness is to be a kind of treasure-hunter. I look for treasures that almost became trash, that were then transformed into treasure again.  This metamorphosis carries with it a unique story, a history, a soul.

We love our treasures: the pair of flip flops you wore all summer, the guitar strings you wore out, the bicycle tires that carried you to work, the climbing ropes and harness you used while mountaineering, a pair of jeans that fit perfectly but are now thread-bare, the wool sweater that kept you warm but now has holes in the elbows, the 9-iron that broke on the backside of the golf course.

When these beloved items have lost their usefulness, they are often discarded as garbage.  These are just small examples of what ends up in our landfills, but they carry our stories.  They end up as trash, disregarded and seemingly irrelevant. However, their stories can continue, thanks to innovative people and ideas.

One of the inspiring currents today is the number of artists and small companies around the world that are using what was potentially trash and turning it into renewed treasure.  Creative jewelry, handbags, pet toys, home decor, and many more things can be made from re-purposed treasures.

What about recycling?
Recycling has its challenges. Not everything can be recycled, despite many people’s best efforts to toss items in recycling bins.  This means we have more discarded items in our landfills than we realize.

Scott Fowler, manager of Rogue Waste Systems in southern Oregon, which collects recycling from curbside bins, says there are always non-recyclables mixed in. For instance, a roll of linoleum, gas cans, briefcases, knitted sweaters, frozen food cartons and plastic bags that many people think are recyclable but are not. Rogue Waste Systems has no other choice but to take all this recycling to the local landfill.  The entire collection of potential recycling is now in the landfill instead.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries said 31% of America’s scrap commodity exports were sent to China in 2017.  In the UK, almost all of recycled plastic used to be sent to China and Hong Kong for processing. However, recently China has banned 24 varieties of waste including plastic and unsorted paper, steel, used auto parts, and old ships.

The US exports about one third of its recycling and nearly half of that goes to China.

The reality in 2018 is that what we think is being recycled isn’t.  But innovation is rising and we are finding ways to use the recyclables that can’t be recycled and turn them into useful items again. 

Up-cycling and repurposing is one of the best ways to manage waste and turn old treasures into new ones. 

I recently discovered two shoe companies that do just that:

Rothy's ShoesRothy’s is an innovative shoe company in San Francisco that makes shoes out of plastic water bottles.  To date they have repurposed 12,380,475 plastic water bottles thanks to 3-D Knit technology.  The company even takes back used Rothy shoes as part of their recycling program.  These shoes are incredibly comfortable, and when I'm wearing them I wonder how many plastic bottles of water that I used to drink are now footwear on my feet. 

Allbirds shoesAllbirds use uses merino wool, recycled plastic bottles for shoe laces, castor bean oil for insoles and ships in 90% recycled cardboard boxes. Their superfine merino wool are from sheep in New Zealand and their shoes are breathable, temperature-regulating and moisture-wicking.

My grandparents raised sheep, so the Allbirds wool shoes have a special story for me.  In fact as a little kid, I associated my grandmother with the sheep and called her "Baa."

I bought a pair of Allbirds last winter, and wore them during the winter season in Florida and my feet never felt hot or uncomfortable.  Having a bit of a wonky knee, I have to be careful that shoes are going to have both comfort and support, and Allbirds wool shoes were both extremely comfortable and supportive.

Currently Allbirds has developed another line of footwear from tree fibers: sourced from Eucalyptus tree fibers in South Africa.  They are light, cool, and really comfortable, allowing your foot to spread naturally and not feel squished.  When I wear my Allbirds tree fiber shoes, it's fun to tell people the story of my shoes!

New stories coming:
We will have lots of new products with stories to tell in the coming months.  We have been evaluating a wide-range of cool, fun, innovative, and remarkable products from some unlikely sources …. soda can tabs, used lobster fishing boat ropes, repurposed mountain-climbing harnesses, repurposed candy and cookie wrappers, repurposed racing bike tire rubber, repurposed first-class airline seats, used computer components, recycled linen, recycled skate boards, and more. You may be surprised and thrilled at how innovative and beautiful these items can be!

The creations at Seeds for Kindness not only fulfill our goal of reducing landfills, but provide the very important gift of a story.  In this day and age of instant gratification with little meaning, its nice to have an option of buying something that helps the planet and has a story to share.

Heading image credit:
Detail of large portrait by Mary Ellen Croteau, made entirely of bottle caps.



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