OK, so National Reuse Day isn’t the most festive day of the year–or even the month. Yet October 20, coming shortly before millions of Halloween costumes will be casually tossed in the garbage, is a good day to think about the things in our lives, and how, as artisans and buyers, we can give them a longer useful life.
In this post, we’ll talk about reuse and hear from artisans about their reuse practices and products.
But why focus on the middle step of the “reduce, reuse, recycle” triad? It turns out that, although recycling gets the most attention, the three Rs are named in order of their importance:
- Reduce is first because it lessens the amount of trash entering the waste stream in the first place – the main goal.
- Reuse is next important, because it prevents existing resources from becoming waste by recirculating them through the economy.
- Recycling uses energy to transform waste into something new.
The Reuse Alliance gives the example of a beer bottle. In recycling, a discarded beer bottle goes through a six-step process of moving, cleaning, crushing, melting, and re-forming into a bottle, and moving back to the brewery to be refilled. Reusing that same bottle takes only three steps: moving it, cleaning it, and returning it to the brewery. Reducing would mean bringing your growler straight to the brewery for a refill and avoiding the bottles altogether.
Reuse is greener and more economical than recycling. So why hasn’t it caught on more? Because we love and want spiffy new things, and our economy is built around that appetite. What if it could change? Co-op artisans have risen to the challenge!
Reuse leads artisans in all kinds of creative directions. Alyssa Penman of Petits Morceaux makes usable art objects out of recycled, salvaged, and repurposed paper and fabric.
Kelly Jo Anderson, an artist in several mediums who hopes to open a Co-op shop next year, reused bits of a discarded painting of her own in a new accordion-style minibook.
Some Artisans Cooperative members are experimenting with new reuse projects. Nicole Kohler of CraftTreeNJ lives at the Jersey shore, where she gathers the plastic waste that washes up each day. She plans to turn some of it into resin art pieces.
Alex Haze of the soon-to-come shop Handmade Herz, inspired by old clothing, is working on a new project that uses denim from much-worn, discarded jeans as a canvas for embroidered portraits.
Leah Kiser of Ahavah Ariel Sacred Arts helps her customers reuse with her festive one-of-a-kind wooden gift “bags”.
It’s a Win for Everyone!
Artisans like Lee Cattarin of Riverside Refuge Studio and Erin Sapre of StellaNC Works integrate reuse into every aspect of their businesses. Both their bottom line and the environment benefit. Lee and Erin pack their orders in reused shipping materials.
Reusing also has artistic value. Lee uses discarded and discounted fabric and leather scraps in his various products, while Erin, a potter, turns her own dried scraps back into fresh clay for new projects. Erin’s ruined pieces go to an artist friend who uses them in her mosaics. Lee says, “I prioritize scrap not just because it’s cheaper but because scrap makes for more interesting projects with more variation and depth to them!”
Back to the Future
Kelly Jo Anderson (above) and Valerie Franklin of Walnut Studiolo both speak of returning to the practices of older generations as part of the way forward.
Kelly Jo recalls her great-grandmother: “She was a farmer’s wife, lived through the great depression, and made do, mended, stored, and reused. I remember my mother looked down on anything mended or reused, but I always loved the old things and how they adapted to new circumstances.” Kelly Jo is drawn to art movements with similar values, like Slow Art‘s rejection of the “cult of speed” (Carl Honoré) and Artful Mending‘s finding (and making) beauty in repairs.
Valerie says, “We are evolving, or perhaps devolving to a much earlier time, starting to crave more objects in our lives that don’t need to be replaced every month or year.” She and her husband stress quality and repairability over replaceability in their leather shop. They also have a line of upcycled leather products. Walnut’s goods are meant to last a lifetime, a claim that’s backed up by the shop’s lifetime warranty.
Finally, reusing has a human-scale, communal dimension that buying cheap disposable products can’t begin to match. For example, Erin Sapre (above) has built a little reuse network in her community including the mosaic artist who uses her broken pottery and the businesses who give her their used packing materials.
Someone who wants one of Riverside Refuge Studio’s (above) block-printed T-shirts can send in an old shirt to be printed on for a discount instead of paying full price for a new one.
Valerie and Geoff Franklin (above) send leather scraps to a veterans organization that uses them in leather craft kits for vets with PTSD. They reuse packing materials and explain why so their customers are on board with their packages looking a bit less slick than some. They also sell replacement parts and teach their customers how to maintain their purchases over the long haul. They’re working to expand reusing one customer at a time.
Rhi Smith of Honeysuckle Witches Brew offers a discount to anyone who is willing or able to mail back their tea containers for cleaning and reuse.
Similarly, when you freecycle a piece of furniture, you’re helping someone else make ends meet. The used and discarded stuff you put out on the sidewalk may become a neighbor’s treasure — and it might even make you a new friend. As Jonathon Engels of One Green Planet says, “Reusing and repurposing is how we make a kinder, friendlier world.” And that’s worth celebrating!
Looking for more reused and up-cycled handmade treasures? Browse our Pinterest board!
About Artisans Cooperative
We are growing an online handmade marketplace for an inclusive network of creatives: a co-op alternative to Etsy.
Shop the marketplace!