Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Environment

7 ways to turn the trash into treasure

Flickr: Alan Levine

There’s a reason people always fight over who’s supposed to take out the trash: it sucks. No one really wants to take out the trash because it’s heavy and it ends up in landfills that release toxic substances, emit greenhouse gases, and is often viewed as just plain ugly.

There are so many ways to reuse and recycle to reduce our trash trail. One man’s trash doesn’t have to be another’s treasure. Your trash can be your own treasure. The more stuff you save from going in the trash, the less trash you’ll have to take out. So how can you take your garbage from waste to wonder?

Here are 7 ways you can reuse waste. From food to clothing - and everything in between - leading companies, artists, and chefs set examples, paving the way to a more sustainable world and you can get inspired to do the same. 

1. Turn it into art

French street artist, Lor-K, turns discarded mattresses into museum-worthy objects. She has been fashioning abandoned mattresses and cushions into larger-than-life food sculptures as part of her latest project called Eat Me. Lor-K gives fluffy pastry a whole new meaning crafting waffles, cakes, and other foods out of what most people consider garbage. Once completed, she leaves her works exactly where she found the materials, on the streets of Paris. Instead of strolling by a collection of garbage, passersby can now enjoy Lor-K’s whimsical creations.

A photo posted by Lor-K (@lor_k_life) on

Francisco de Pajaro, a Spanish street artist, takes a different approach to trash as art. He spray paints over bags of garbage, chucked boxes, and any other trash he stumbles upon on the street, turning them into characters that often appear “hurt, humiliated and ignored by society.” In other words, they appear dejected, kind of like your trash when you don’t give it purpose. De Pajaro marks a spot near each of his works with one phrase in an effort to challenge society’s aesthetic norms, and when the garbage is cleared away in the morning, three words -- “Art is Trash” -- are all that remain.

These of course, are not the only ways art can be born out of trash. You just have to get creative. Let’s just hope no one mistakes your art for trash (see: this boozy art exhibition in Italy that was accidentally thrown out).

2. Eat it

Cooking with food waste might just be the next hot culinary trend.

For three weeks last year, Dan Barber, the chef and co-owner of Blue Hill, turned his restaurant into a pop-up. He featured gourmet meals made from all the bits and pieces of food normally tossed out.

A restaurant in Amsterdam, InStock, is taking this idea a step further. The founders, who met while working at a large grocery store in Amsterdam, were disturbed by the amount of food that gets wasted and decided to open a restaurant to address the problem.

A photo posted by INSTOCK (@instock_nl) on

InStock’s menu changes daily as chefs get creative with whatever ingredients the restaurant collects from vendors that day. Ingredients range from scraps collected from fish shops to surplus food from supermarkets and surplus beers from Heineken (fun fact: Heineken is a Dutch company whose first brewery was in Amsterdam). And they’re not the only ones, Freegan Pony in Paris also serves delicious meals from food that was deemed too old to sell, but still good to eat.

So before you throw out anymore food, check out what you can cook up with food waste or find out what events organizations like Feed Back are holding near you to help tackle and consume food waste.

3. Plant it

Don’t throw your green onion and celery roots in the trash! Put them in the ground and soon you’ll be growing your own produce. Eggshells, used coffee grounds, and nut shells make great compost, and your empty milk cartons and paper towel rolls are perfect seed starters.

4. Harness its power

China will be opening the world’s biggest waste-to-energy plant in 2020 to address the country’s gargantuan garbage problem. The plant will run on solar power and help generate electricity for the city of Shenzhen while also eliminating trash.

Sweden has gotten so good at turning waste into energy that it’s actually importing garbage... I guess one man’s trash can still be another man’s treasure. People in Sweden recycle about 47% of their waste, and more than half of that is used to generate heat or electricity. Less than 1% of their trash actually ends up in the dump!

5. Wear it

Emma Watson wore a dress made from soda bottles to the Met Gala this year (note: the Met Gala is one of the biggest nights in fashion). And if it’s good enough for Emma Watson to wear on the red carpet, it’s probably good enough for you.

While Patagonia isn’t making high-fashion from soda bottles, it is making high-performance clothing for the outdoors from them. Patagonia is literally recycling the material from worn out Patagonia products and giving it new life. The company reuses old Patagonia clothing that customers return in their new products.

H&M is following “suit,” so if it’s time to retire the jeans you wore until the seams split but you can’t bear the thought of your favorite bottoms sitting in a landfill, hand them over to H&M.

Surfing champion Kelly Slater is taking things back out of the trash and turning them into clothing. He’s teamed up with an Italian manufacturing company to turn the plastic fishing nets that litter the ocean into a material that can be used to make cool swim trunks (Bonus: they can also be recycled!)

If you want something a little more hands-on, it turns out you can take the film that grows on fermenting kombucha tea (called scoby) and turn it into a leather like material, which can be used to make clothing. And even if your Kombucha clothing ends up in a landfill, they’ll naturally decompose.

6. Play it

Make your trash sing for you. Children who grew up in Cateura, a landfill in Paraguay, formed the Recycled Orchestra. The group plays instruments made from salvaged scraps found in the the heaps of garbage and has even toured South America with other “metal bands” like Metallica.

Lastly, what do you do when you really can’t get rid of all your trash? You’ve probably never thought of this next one before.

7. Just live in it already!

These homes and buildings made from recycled materials are gorgeous. Spanish architecture firm Infiniski has even made a name for itself by using recycled materials to build chic, affordable homes. One man, Jeff Wilson, went so far as to make a home out of the dumpster itself.

I’m going to level with you. Yes, it might be a little tough to DIY the trash into energy or weather-resistant outdoor clothing. But there are there are still many other ways we can reduce waste starting with being conscious of what we’re discarding. Give your trash a second look before you finally - reluctantly - take it out.