Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! (Just, not too much..)

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| September 30, 2013

Recycling is hip. Recycled bags are printed in trendy patterns and reusable water bottles are available in bright, cheerful colors and an array of styles. Recycling takes on so many forms: shopping bags made out of soda bottles and recycled plastics, skirts made out of old ties, recycled paper, eco-friendly paint, even recycled ideas.

My town learned to recycle in the early ’80s. I remember going with my dad to the dump on Saturdays in the pickup truck (which I loved riding in). I also remember my first trip to the new recycling center in town, and learning to separate trash from recycling. I learned to peel labels off aluminum cans and, in the process, to differentiate reusable materials from trash; how to know what material is worth a second life and what is at its end, for one reason or another.

As artists and designers, our choice of material is incredibly important. What kind of paper we print on can change the timbre of the whole piece. The kind of paint, kind of brush, pencil; all our materials are incredibly carefully and intentionally chosen. Choosing to reuse materials can be thrifty (you don’t have to buy it!) and can boost your creativity. A self-imposed rule (such as only using reused materials) can get your mind thinking in completely different ways.

Check out the sculpture below that gives the viewer a new perspective on old trash.

webster trash
Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s Dirty White Trash (With Gulls) uses trash, taxidermy, scrap metal, darkness and light to project a perfect silhouette.

The subject of recycling has also posed some design challenges. The triangle of arrows found on the bottom of plastic cups and containers is the universal symbol that reminds us all to reduce, reuse and recycle (specifically, the container in question). The arrows appear to create a mobius strip (a single-sided, never-ending surface). Cool, right? Except if you look closely, there are three corners on a triangle, which means the piece of paper would twist three times, so it’s not a true mobius strip after all! (You learn something new every day!)

The recycling non-mobius-strip logo was designed by Gary Anderson and is now in the public domain.

It’s not only physical material that can be recycled, but intellectual, auditory, or creative material as well. Nothing is original in this world; everything comes from somewhere else. Human beings are incredibly social creatures and each action we make is influenced by those around us, by our perceptions of others and perception of self. Fads and trends occur entirely because of this social behavior, and ideas ride on the wave as well. Ideas come from not only what is currently in front of us, but from a convergence of current experiences with past perspective and memories.

If you remember the ’80s, then you remember Star Wars and Vanilla Ice. Vanilla Ice was a rapper who ‘borrowed’ Queen’s Under Pressure in his own Ice, Ice Baby. John Williams composed the memorable scores for the highly popular Star Wars films; the earliest films ‘borrowed’ from Gustav Holst’s Mars. Each artist, Williams and Vanilla Ice, used previous works as launching pads for their own work. Current DJs “mash up” tracks by other artists; cutting up the musical lines like a collage to create something different and, in a way, new again. But how “new” is Kid Rock’s All Summer Long if the beginning refrains are indistinguishable from Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London?

Recycling is good for the environment (reduces trash), good for the home (reduces clutter) and good for the soul (reduces guilt), but, like anything else, only in moderation.

Do you recycle? What do you reuse? How much originality is required to make something new again?


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