Where does all the garbage go?

As an avid salvager, the question of what-is-waste is always in the back (or front) of my mind. This past week has been full of opportunities to think about that.

If you’ve been reading here for any length of time at all, I’m sure you know that “waste” is often the source material for my work – second hand clothing, discarded items from the trash, reclaimed construction materials, etc. That kind of garbage is really just a waste, you know? I spent some time this week photographing the clothing samples I showed you briefly last time, all of which are made from upcycled materials, in my favourite place – they alleys.

Freeplay goes high fashion.

Freeplay goes high fashion.

The natural high key lighting made me feel like a very fancy photographer. Ohh, drama!

lace shoulder detail

lace shoulder detail

It was a fun morning – there is so much colourful graffiti around here, and the streets are so very quiet early when the sun is just starting to warm up. Hippies like to sleep in, I guess.
funnel neck cardigan

funnel neck cardigan

funnel neck
funnel neck

I really like to photograph my work in alleys. For one, they are a free and unmonitored, and often deserted, space where I can take advantage of interesting mise-en-scene and good natural lighting. But I also like juxtaposing my designs-that-are-made-from-garbage with the traditional area where garbage is often disposed of. It becomes a sort of symbolic return to the scene of the crime, and interestingly, neither the subject or the space looks like trash anymore.

Another intersection with waste lately has been participating in a local gleaning organization called Not far from the Tree, that picks unwanted residential fruit trees in Toronto. There are fruit trees all over the city that yearly produce tons of food that goes to waste, rotting on the ground or feeding rodents and birds, because the homeowner hasn’t the time, ability, or inclination to tend the trees. NFFTT is a volunteer force that, armed with ladders and mechanical extending arm picker devices and plenty of tree-climbing enthusiasm, goes and picks registered trees throughout the city. One third of the produce is donated to local foodbanks, while another 1/3 goes to the home owner, and the remaining 1/3 is divided amongst the volunteers. We went out and picked a bosc pear tree with them on friday, bringing home a massive bag of fruit for our labour. It only took about an hour to pick almost every pear off an enormous tree.

bosc pears

bosc pears

Between food waste and material waste there was another interesting intersection this week, as I spent a few days working on a recycled textile sculpture. See, I had been wanting to start up a composting worm bin again, so after finding a local company that grows and sells red wrigglers worms for home composting, we agreed to barter: I would receive a fully equipped compost bin, complete with worms and bedding, while she would receive a 4 foot long plush worm sculpture to use in the workshops she does in elementary schools throughout the city. It was pretty awesome.

[pear, centre, shows scale]

pear, centre, shows scale

And it couldn’t be a more perfect fit, really; the worm sculpture is made from scraps of material, while real live composting worms are also “made” of scraps of (vegetal) material, that they eat… I even presented the worm in a mock bin, with shredded paper bedding and fabric food scraps, to complete the symmetry. I had a good giggle.

I traded this...

I traded this...

(the banana peel is almost my favourite part!)

...for this!

...for this!

real red wrigglers, up close and personal

real red wrigglers, up close and personal

I had a great time building the worm, and the recipient was very happy and pleased as well. Thanks again to Cathy of Cathy’s Composters for the great worm bin and for being interested in bartering!

You’ll have to hold tight now for now to have any more details on the worm, because I am very excited to submit a short story about this project to Whip Up (one of my favourite blog sites) for their focus on recycled/upcycled projects during the month of November. We’ll have to wait and see if they accept it, of course, but still… Whip up was one of the first craft sites I found that spoke to me and motivated me to start my own blog, so it really feels like something to be in a position now to participate in that forum, not just lurk!

In other garbage news, living so close to all the wonderful fruit and vegetable markets here has finally motivated me to make some reusable cloth produce bags. The transition to canvas grocery bags was easy, but all those clear plastic bags for apples and beans etc. had really been niggling me. Re-using those flimsy bags is just a frustrating exercise in futility and dropping fruit everywhere when they inevitably rip… not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. But now I have a set of simple drawstring bags, and I am loving them. They weigh almost nothing, are sturdy and easy to close, and are also a pretty green-y gold colour because that is the tulle that I had on hand. (Recognize it, Rikki?)

tulle produce bags, holding local prune plums

tulle produce bags, holding local prune plums

On a similar eco note, I am very happy to have made the discovery that loofah works incredibly well to wash dishes. They sell loofahs all up and down Spadina near here in the Asian groceries, and it got me to thinking… I understand now, sheepishly, that surely they are sold with this purpose in mind, but it still felt like an exciting leap for me to take what had only ever been a body-washing-scrubber and use it on the pots and pans. It works great! Very scritchy! See, I had been feeling uncomfortable about all the plastic scritchy sponges that we have been using for cleaning and their lack of biodegradability, but loofah is a natural material, and so compostable. Did you know that Loofa is a kind of gourd? I thought that loofahs were a sort of sea sponge/coral, so was happy to learn that this new eco-friendly seeming scrubber isn’t coming at the cost of marine ecosystems. In fact, loofah apparently is a relatively-easy to grow crop, much like zucchini, and the immature fruits can even be cooked and eaten. Neat.

loofah, cut in half and ready for scrubbing

loofah, cut in half and ready for scrubbing

So between the new worm bin, Toronto’s fabulous green bin program (which even accepts pet wastes!), and the great recycling program that take’s almost everything else, we are nearing zero household garbage output. Wow. Not quite there yet… the three of us are still making about one small bag of garbage every 2 weeks. But hey, these are two solid steps closer towards cutting out disposable manufactured plastic products in our household entirely. Hooray! Apparently, the city of Toronto has a goal that by 2010, 100% of all city waste will be diverted from landfills, i.e. every household will be producing 0% “traditional garbage”, with all of it going to either composting or recycling facilities. Hey, look, we can do it! It seems so ridiculous that it’s taken us this long to realize that there is no such thing as throwing something “away” — away is always somebody‘s somewhere. You know? Yes.

And now, this post is far longer than intended, and it’s time for me to go “away”. I hope that you are all having a lovely week as well.




9 Responses

  1. Wow Anna! You blow my mind! SERIOUSLY!

    You need to talk to my family upstairs! They produce soooo much garbage it is unbelievable… though I say that to shift away attention from my waste. OH dear.. I wish there was a better way to dispose my pet waste. It make up for a lot of our waste. ick gross… but seriously 2 bags a day is a lot of poooopppp 🙂 haha enjoy that thought. (for the record that bag we use are suppose to biodegrate but they still look plastic… it confusses me AND I use the bag if we have two treats on a walk) Yah poop talk. My favourite!

    Oh and the tulle is vaguely familiar. I think I tried to use that for a Hallowe’en costume. Glad it is saving the planet now 🙂

  2. The loofah is a gourd, that’s the coolest thing I’ve heard all day! (I thought they were pulled from the sea, too.)

  3. oh man, as soon as i saw the loofahs i was going to blow YOUR mind by letting you know they were from a gourd, but then i read the next sentence and like always, you were one step ahead of me.

    yesterday i went back to that apple tree we pilferred last september, the one on Bureau, but it was empty! i couldn’t even tell it was an apple tree other than the few completely rotted apples that lay in front of it in the alley. it broke my heart a little that I had missed such an apple opportunity… i left victoria just before they were ripe enough, i got to montreal aparently just after 😦

  4. I had to do a double take on that banana peel. So very realistic!

  5. I LOVE your worm…

  6. I LOVE my worm! Anna is amazing!
    I did a worm workshop and the kids loved Anna’s wonderful worm!

    Thank you for the super speedy, creative work.

    In gratitude,

  7. […] guess what? The article I submitted to whipup about the worm i made back in september is going up on tomorrow! So thanks, […]

  8. you have an excellent and sensitive eye for photography! love the worm puppet and thanks for educating kids early on re: the wonders of the humble earthworm. thanks stacey

  9. […] My own experience with bartering started a few years ago. While living in Montreal I had a regular swap relationship with my massage therapist, trading my work creating custom clothing and alterations for her in exchange for kinesetherapy. It was awesome. Over the years I’ve also traded my various design skills and haircutting services for all sorts of things, ranging from home baking to fabric and paints and catsitting. And numerous clothing swaps! And then of course there was the fabulous composting worm exchange… […]

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