Finding Gold in Garbage

As a society, we are continually exposed to the disposable nature of stuff. But, this wasn’t always so.

My nana would carefully unwrap gifts so she could reuse the pretty paper again. Our family reupholstered a couch we received when an aunt passed away. My mother would reuse the bread bag to pack our picnic sandwiches rather than use extra foil, and my grandmother would meticulously store her hats because she expected to use them for decades.

We often consider our hectic lifestyles justification for creating lots of trash. We don’t have time to wash dishes, so we use disposable. Big box retailers’ everyday low prices have made shoes cheap and we have many, so why bother with the trip to the shoemaker? Retrieving a pitcher of cold water from the fridge and pouring it into a glass takes time – much easier to just grab a handy, prepackaged bottle of water.

Throughout our daily lives we encounter so much waste – which is why I find stories of reusing and repurposing so refreshing.

For example, an artist I follow created an interesting series about salvaging and reuse. As a specialist in typography, her goal was to explore the written word as art. For the series, titled “I’m a Piece of Garbage”, she used discarded objects as canvases for hand-painted phrases about personal worth and value in the artist’s own words, “Starting with items from the trash and using humorous text and sign painting, a very traditional medium, it turns them into art.” Each day I enjoyed checking in on social media to see what her latest creation was. It was witty, eye-catching and acknowledged the deep emotional struggles of many.

I have a friend I consider very glamorous. Every time I see her, I’m always struck by how put together and lovely she looks. It was a hard lesson learned when she told me she only purchases her clothing at thrift stores. This approach certainly takes more time, but it puts to use items already in existence, rather than promoting the trend of fast fashion.

One day, while enjoying an afternoon at this same friend’s home, I stopped to admire a hanging on the wall. After discussing that the piece was an original charcoal drawing from 1832 (complete with notation and signature), she informed me that she had retrieved it from the trash on her walk home from work. She picked up the soot-covered picture thinking she might like to reuse the unique wooden frame. You can imagine her delight when, after cleaning it, she discovered what a treasure it truly was.

Recently, when moving my daughter into her first apartment, I discovered lovely wine glasses left behind in the trash room by a departing tenant. I quickly snatched them up and eagerly offered my find to my daughter. At first she was a bit appalled. How could she drink from a stranger’s glass? I reminded her that every time she visits a restaurant that’s exactly what she does. I scrubbed them up and placed them in her cabinet. On my next visit, we both enjoyed a glass of wine from those very same glasses.

These stories are just a few of the many that have avoided wastefulness. There are old adages on the subject: “One man’s trash is another man’s gold” and “Waste not, want not.” So, while recycle, reuse and repurpose are not new concepts, rather than toss them aside like trash, let’s all try to give them a renewed commitment.

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