Recycling means much more than sorting papers from plastic. For National Recycling Week Michael Green looks at new eco-friendly ways.
Founder Kate Pears held her first swap in 2004, and has made it a regular occurrence since early last year. Now there are separate trading parties for women, men, and mums and bubs. There are also accessory and designer-label exchanges for the super stylish.
Pears says her events are both environmentally and socially beneficial. “It makes strangers jump into conversation as they share the histories of the garments. I like the fact that it’s not radical. It’s just about sharing more.” And of course, swappers gladly sidestep “the post-consumption regret of maxing their credit card”.
Sustainability doesn’t have to be boring, Pears says. “In the case of our events, it should involve lots of glamorous clothes, a good giggle and a cocktail.” But exchanges do have a serious benefit. Planet Ark says swapping one cotton dress rather than buying it new saves about 22,000 litres of water. By diverting goods from landfill, it also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
For recycling week, the organisation has released a guide to running your own swap party. This is how it works: each item is traded for one token, and the token can then be used to purchase new treasures. Swaps can be run with anyone from friends to sporting clubs, and for products as diverse as clothes and gardening tools.
In markets and boutiques across the city, crafty types are resuscitating our cast-offs, administering a healthy dose of style, and selling them back.
Sophie Splatt sews wallets from old dress patterns and picture books, as well as purses, bags and badges from vintage fabrics. The 28-year-old, who sells her quirky wares under the name Mistress of the Upper Fifth, is motivated both by green and aesthetic concerns.
She aims to reduce her environmental impact by using pre-loved goods wherever possible. Happily, she also prefers the style and quality of second-hand textiles to new ones. “I started collecting fabrics years ago and my collection just grew and grew. I decided to start my own business to cut it, but it’s just gotten bigger.”
She says more and more people are shaping new products from others’ castaways. “There’s a culture of reusing things here and it’s something I haven’t seen so much in other cities. Whenever I go to markets I’m astounded by what people make and the ideas they come up with.”
Another of those ideas is Rebound Books. Northcote couple Natalie and Ben Mason create new notebooks and photo albums by re-binding old hardback covers with fresh recycled or denim paper.
The spare-room workshop of their Northcote house is stocked with binders, guillotines and old books. The couple source their hardbacks from op shops and library discards.
“Every time we go into an op shop, we go straight to the bookshelves. I no longer go to the shoes,” Natalie says, laughing.
Even the new paper has an old story. Their supplier in the US makes its stock by boiling down denim scraps bound for landfill. “There are no trees in it at all. It’s fully-recycled cotton paper,” Natalie says.
FareShare rescues food destined for landfill and transforms it into nutritious meals for the needy. “It’s all absolutely perfect food that would have been thrown away because people can’t on-sell it,” production co-ordinator Julien Jane says, while her volunteers roll out pastry offcuts donated by Boscastle Pies.
Formerly called One Umbrella, the organisation makes more than 2000 meals every day in its Abbotsford kitchen, from sausage rolls and quiches to pasta dishes. It also delivers thousands of donated meals, such as pre-wrapped baguettes. “We haven’t spent anything on food in three years, it’s all been donated,” Jane says. More than 80 businesses donate food, none of it past its use-by date.
Jane strives to produce dishes high in protein and fibre and is proud of her kitchen’s efficiency. “Some restaurants have a wastage of up to 40%. We have a wastage of around 1%.”
That’s a number Paul Martin would admire. Years ago, the former chef, 31, began making fuel from fish-and-chip oil. Now he’s a biodiesel consultant and recently published a book on the subject, Grown Fuel.
Martin has also been a sometime ‘freegan’, eating only discarded food. “I’ve been in houses where we lived solely from supermarket rubbish bins, and I’ve never lived in a house that had so much food. We even had a party once where we had a massive bucket of prawns.”
For him, trespass is more of a concern than salmonella. “I know how to tell if food is off and I’ve never ever gotten sick from eating anything out of the bin.” He says the classic example is a tray of bottles turfed because one has broken. “Sometimes you just can’t work out why they’ve thrown it out. I wish the supermarkets would give the food away to charity or customers. It’s a big waste.”
We have great potential to reclaim resources, Martin says, “in all areas, from building to food. There are all sorts of things out there for free.”