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recycling

The Uncommon Life

This Just In: Our Top 5 Most Creative and Head-Turning Greener Materials

April 22, 2015

Back in February, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver opened his show with a hilarious segment of reporters who all agreed that “infrastructure is important, but not sexy.” As crucial as infrastructure improvements are, Oliver proclaimed that “most people actually think it’s boring!” (Unless, of course, the infrastructure is blowing up in an action movie.) But in reality, Oliver admitted that he thinks infrastructure is quite fascinating.

Greener Materials | UncommonGoods

Photo via Collectively.org

I would argue that the same holds true for manufacturing. It’s not a word that typically riles up the masses. It’s never trending on Twitter, and there isn’t an app that would make manufacturing any more sexy (with the exception of 3D Printing). Yet, the manufacturing industry touches almost everything we use. As you may have read in our latest Uncommon Design School post, in the decades preceding the first Earth Day “the manufacturing industry was more interested in making green than going green: factories belched out clouds of black smoke; toxic chemicals were dumped carelessly, polluting the soil and groundwater; and bottles, cans, and paper were all destined for the landfill after just one use.” Well, could that sound any less sexy?

Greener Materials | UncommonGoods

Photo courtesy of Barry Rosenthal’s Studio Tour

Lucky for us, this 20th century model of capitalism is becoming less and less acceptable. According to B Lab Co-Founder Jay Coen Gilbert, we are moving toward a stakeholder capitalism, where business is not only concerned about creating value for shareholders, but also concerned about creating value for society, the workforce, the community and the environment. Organizations like B Corporations are making sustainable business more important and attractive to consumers. In this way, I would argue that sustainability is one of the main factors that make manufacturing a really cool topic. Green design is only becoming more innovative and valuable than it’s ever been.

This realization got us thinking: What are some of the most surprising, head-turning green materials in our assortment this Earth Day? What are some of our newest items that make us excited to talk all things materials and manufacturing?

Reclaimed Bike Tube Rug

Reclaimed Bike Tube Rug | UncommonGoods

The Reclaimed Bike Tube Rug immediately caught my eye the day it entered our assortment. As I was reading the product description, I was particularly impressed that this artist uses the discarded bicycle tire tubes, gathered from bike shops in her area, and yarn scraps reclaimed from industrial production. I was even more intrigued how this hand woven rug seamlessly combines Old and New World techniques. But it was one concept in particular that made my head tilt sideways: this item is “waste negative,” meaning it removes waste from the environment, rather than adding to it. Brilliant!

Recycled Plastic Duck Family

Recycled Plastic Duck Family | UncommonGoods

Whereas reuse is the reinstallation of materials in their original form, recycling is the collection and remanufacture of materials into a new material or product, typically different from the original material. Handmade from recycled newspaper, recycled water bottles and clay, this Duck Family is a very creative example of attractive recycling.

Fire Hose Products

Fire Hose Products | UncommonGoods

Here at UncommonGoods, we are huge fans of upcycling, the process of converting old materials into something useful. When you upcycle an item, you aren’t breaking down the materials, but refashioning them. As the Upcycling Fashionista puts it, “upcycling only requires your own creativity and elbow grease.” Micah Landworth’s line of fire hose products is a really unique way to transform discarded materials into something beautiful and true to its original character.

Pride & Prejudice Throw

Pride and Prejudice Throw | UncommonGoods

I immediately loved this throw because P&P is one of my favorite novels and movie adaptations. What makes this throw truly special, though, is how it’s made. The makers repurpose, or adapt, pre-consumer cotton scraps, and shred and spin them into new yarn. How cool is that?

Vegetable Parchment Platter

Vegetable Parchment Platter | UncommonGoods

Artist Margaret Dorfman has been part of the UncommonGoods family for more than 15 years. She has an extensive jewelry collection that’s made by hand from over 40 different varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables that are cured, dried, pressed and aged in a 10-14 day process. She calls this Vegetable Parchment, because the texture and translucency calls to mind the vellum parchments of medieval Europe. I was really excited to see that she is expanding this technique into other products besides jewelry. Even more awesome, her new Vegetable Parchment Platters are made with recycled glass.

 

See More Recycled Gifts | UncommonGoods

Design

Uncommon Design School: The Origins of Earth Day & the Green Design Movement

April 9, 2015

As Earth Day celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, it’s hard to believe that the concept of “going green” is still relatively new. While we’ve come a long way as individuals to evaluate our environmental impact, the countless designs that we interact with on a daily basis have, too.

Planting Flowers

The UncommonGoods team planting flowers for Earth Day.

In the decades prior to the establishment of Earth Day, the manufacturing industry was more interested in making green than going green: factories belched out clouds of black smoke; toxic chemicals were dumped carelessly, polluting the soil and groundwater; and bottles, cans, and paper were all destined for the landfill after just one use. At the time, most people remained blissfully unaware of the consequences of overconsumption and how negligent manufacturing practices were wreaking havoc on the planet.

After witnessing the ravages of the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson had the idea of bringing environmental issues to the public eye by creating an event infused with the same energy as the anti-war protests occurring at the time. On April 22nd, 1970, his simple idea for a teach-in exploded into a national event uniting 20 million people under one common goal: raise awareness about environmental impact. The little holiday that could led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

During the same era of change, Vienna-born designer Victor Papanek quietly penned his cri de coeur, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, an impassioned plea for reform that laid the foundation for the emerging sustainable and humanitarian design movements.

Design For the Real World

 Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, Paperback, Second Edition, Published August 30th 2005 by Chicago Review Press (first published 1972), image via Goodreads

“There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a few,” he writes at the start of his 1971 manifesto. In addition to pillorying his peers for producing shoddy, stylized work that wasted natural resources and aggravated the environmental crisis, he also introduced the idea of socially responsible design. Calling designers “the handmaidens of capitalism,” Papanek advocated for a triple bottom line policy, in which people, planet, and profit are interconnected and should be considered together.

Dave Bolotsky meeting with Artisans in India

UncommonGoods Founder & CEO Dave Bolotsky meeting with artisans in India.

To Papanek, ecological and social responsibility are the twin pillars of the design practice and his advice has gone on to influence a generation of designers as well as businesses like ours. As a founding B Corp, we meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. We’re also proud to support designers with a similar agenda, who make it their business to come up with better design solutions for people and the planet.

Bike Chain Designs by Graham Bergh | UncommonGoods

 Reclaimed Bike Chain designs by Graham Bergh

In 1991, after getting a flat tire while riding his bike, Graham Bergh was inspired to salvage the materials to make something new and totally unexpected. Every year, his team of bicycle craftsmen collects thousands of pounds of used parts, drawing from bike shops nationwide, and revives them into creative home accents.

Graffiti Jewelry | UncommonGoods

Graffiti Jewelry Collection by Amy Peterson and Diana Russell

After encountering the crumbling walls of graffiti throughout Detroit, Amy Peterson and Diana Russell found the inspiration to turn these bits of urban detritus from around the Motor City into one-of-a-kind remnants of its vibrant street-art scene. Together, they work with women from local shelters to create beautiful works of art that also have a beautiful mission to improve the lives of the people in the community.

Puppet Pals | UncommonGoods

 

Edgar and Ollie the Puppet Pals by Jen List and Stacey Waddington

When Jen List and Stacy Waddington stumbled upon a heap of unwanted sweaters and shirts, the duo decided to transform the old fabrics into a line of snuggly and imaginative children’s toys and accessories that encourage early learning and individual expression through creative design, wonder, and storytelling.

How do you plan on celebrating Earth Day, and what “green” practices do you incorporate into your life?

Design

El Anatsui: All That Glitters Isn’t Gold

May 14, 2013

Like most Americans, I’m pretty unaware of artists who aren’t American or European. Embarrassing but true: interpreting the art of very different cultures takes work, and I tend to approach art (as I do most things) impatiently, wanting immediate pleasure. So I’d never heard of Ghanian-born, Nigeria-based artist El Anatsui when the Brooklyn Museum opened his first solo exhibition in a New York City museum. (Which runs through Aug. 4, 2013.)

El Anatsui, Ink Splash, photo by Aaron Bunge

Ink Splash, 2010 – Photo by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

Gravity and Grace (detail), 2010, photo by Aaron Bunge

Gravity and Grace, 2010 (detail) – Photo by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

Now, thanks to Kevin Dumouchelle, Associate Curator of the Arts of Africa and the Pacific Islands at the museum, who organized the show, this lazy ethnocentrista has been gifted with a reward she didn’t deserve: a broad, deep encounter with overwhelmingly spectacular art. Totally accessible on a number of levels, El Anatsui’s work drew me in, motivating me to spend much more time learning about it than I normally do at an art show. I went twice. I watched all the videos. I never do that.

Afor, 2010

Afor, 2010 – Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

I thought this show would be of interest to the UncommonGoods community for two reasons: first, because it bridges the same fertile territory between “art” and “craft” that a number of pieces in our collection do, and second, because we love art made of recycled and upcycled materials. El Anatsui is perhaps the maestro of this practice.

Drainpipe, 2010 and Peak Project, 1999 – Photos by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

Using tools ranging from chainsaws and welding torches to improvised small crafts tools, he has marked, joined, and shaped materials ranging from yucca graters and railroad ties to driftwood, iron nails, and obituary notice printing plates. More recently, he has focused on condensed milk can tops and used aluminum liquor bottle caps, with various brand names, from a distillery in the university town and contemporary art mecca of Nsukka, Nigeria, where his studio is.

Red Block, 2010 – Photos by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

Anatsui prefers not to call what he does “recycling,” and in fact, the connotations of that word are too narrow in the context of his work. The discarded materials he uses are so miraculously transformed into beautiful, shimmering, sumptuous works of art that his preferred word, “metamorphosis,” does seem more apt. At least one critic has dubbed it “alchemy,” and I can totally see why. (They’re metamorphosed into money as well; at least one piece is rumored to have sold for about a million dollars. So UG will not be offering his stuff any time soon, unfortch.)

Earth’s Skin, 2007 – Photo by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

The show I saw (twice!) at the Brooklyn Museum consists of 30 works in metal and wood, the largest and most visually dominant of which are huge, mosaic-like, hanging tapestries made of the aforementioned bottle caps.

Earth’s Skin, 2007 (detail)- Photos by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

A tremendous amount of meticulous craftsmanship goes into every tapestry, as you can see in this short Art21 video. Each is composed of thousands and thousands of aluminum liquor bottle caps. Anatsui’s 40-odd assistants cut and fold the caps into a seemingly endless multitude of shapes. “For each new pattern or texture that I’m introducing,” explains the artist, “I have to show them how it’s done. Because I find that, as an artist, if you don’t maintain physical contact with handling the material… the work might end up not having a soul.”

Earth’s Skin, 2007 (detail) – Photos by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

They then painstakingly “sew” them together with copper wire, patchwork-style, in a dazzling variety of color and texture groupings, Many depict traditional Ghanian symbols and patterns, while also evoking the history of the African slave trade, in which liquor was a commodity that Europeans exchanged for human beings, as well as the contemporary reality of global consumption and waste. Surprisingly, Anatsui received his early education in a Presbyterian mission with a European curriculum, and was isolated from his own culture until, in his late teens, he decided to “indigenize [his] consciousness” by immersing himself in Ghanaian culture. That probably at least partly explains someone like me found his work so easy to engage with.

El Anatsui creating his wall installation, Gli (Wall), 2010 / Commission, Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, Texas / Photo: Nash Baker © nashbaker.com

El Anatsui doesn’t like to tell curators how to hang the pieces, so they have to be strong from every angle, as there’s no way to predict what kind of stress any given area might sustain. Before uniting all the sections of a piece, his crew pulls each section this way and that, to test their strength and make sure they’ll withstand being hung and re-hung in indoor and outdoor installations around the world. Without this careful craftsmanship, Anatsui’s brilliant, painterly compositions couldn’t perform their artistic function for long.

Black Block, 2010 – Photos by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

There’s no way to adequately describe in words or photographs how stunning, and varied, his work is. Some of the hangings, pieced of solid color blocks of flattened parts of caps, are monolithic and imposing, even though they’re made of what’s easily recognizable as garbage. Some, made of cap parts shaped into circles that are loosely woven together, are semi-transparent, and hang above and around you making the room you’re in look transcendentally magical, as if dust motes had turned to gold.

Gli (Wall), 2010 – Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Brooklyn Museum photograph

Photo by Aaron Bunge of Aesthetic Perspectives

One of the most amazing things about his work, to me, was that usually in the art world, consumer items, brand names, and garbage are used to say something negative and depressing. We’re meant to be reminded of the way consumer culture and advertising infiltrates nearly every aspect of our lives, usually degrading the environment in the process. When I see this kind of work, I often think, “I didn’t need you, Mr./Ms. Art School Graduate, to tell me about this. We all already know it.”

Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

But Anatsui’s work lifts you up and inspires you in all sorts of ways: artistically, environmentally, physically, and, dare I say, metaphysically. Anatsui shows us that the possibilities of re-use to create value of all sorts are unlimited.

The Uncommon Life

Wheat Grass in the House (and the tortoise, and the cats)

June 19, 2012

At UncommonGoods, we’re big proponents of “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.” Nothing goes to waste, if we can help it. Last week, our Creative team did something super-top secret with 24 flats of wheat grass. Afterward, rather than throw it away, Adam, our staff photographer, walked among our desks offering some to any takers. He left the rest on a shelf in one of our break rooms.

I happened to be tortoise-sitting last week for some neighbors who were out of town. Since Roberta – that’s her name – eats only greens, and the occasional flower when she gets lucky, I wondered if she could eat wheat grass, too.

A quick web search turned up both the type of tortoise she is (sulcata, or African spurred tortoise–a desert type) and the answer to my question: Grass is great. I learned that desert tortoises evolved to make the most of high-fiber, low-protein greens like grasses, and that lower-fiber, higher-protein supermarket greens that people eat are bad for their health.

I brought some flats of the wheat grass to Roberta’s lair, and she went nuts for it.

Chomp chomp chomp chomp! It was like watching a dinosaur movie.

This is what one of the flats looked like after she had had her way with it for a couple of days.

Cats, too, enjoy the occasional blade of grass, so I gave a couple of flats to a friend who has five; three in the office and two at home; and to another friend who has two. All seven are rescues, saved from heartbreaking lives by the kindness and cat-craziness of my pals.

Here’s Pumpkin, nibbling.

Pumpkin again, really getting into it. Check out those fangs!

Gloria isn’t sure she wants to get involved.

Gloria, sending a telepathic wheat grass inquiry to her Martian overlords.

Beta is living the compleat wheat grass lifestyle: eating it, pretending to be a lion stalking in an African savanna, and finally, using it as his throne.

It doesn’t get much greener than taking something already green and re-using it–and finally, via the magical mystery of a tortoise’s digestive system, turning it into garden fertilizer. I decided to spare you photos of that.

The Uncommon Life

Announcing Our En‘light’ened Winners!

April 7, 2011

Congratulations to the winners of our first Earth Month 2011 Giveaway! These six Earth-loving readers vowed to step-up and make positive changes to make every day Earth Day.

Here’s how the winners of our Recycled Pelican Night Lights are making a difference:

Debbie:
“I will continue to 1.) Recycle, even though my condos don’t, and try to get more neighbors to as well. 2.) Buy less plastic. 3.) Stop using zip lock bags. 4.) Recycle batteries. 4.) Remember to take to go containers into restaurants 5.) Ride my bike more, building up courage to ride on the streets! Memphis is adding lots of biking lanes and trails! 6.) Continue teaching my 6th grade students to reuse, reduce and recycle 7.) Keep my windows open whenever possible, love fresh air!”

Joe:
“I pledge to:  Use reusable bags for shopping. Compost. Buy local (farmer’s market). Grow own produce. Not consume bottled water. Try and be as least wasteful as possible. Reduce, re-use, recycle.”

Kristal:
“I pledge to look at the packaging more often and to not forget my fabric grocery bags at home so that I cut down on the plastic bags at the store!”

Continue Reading…

Design

Earth Month Giveaway: Recycled Glass Night Light

April 1, 2011

April is Earth Month, and we’re excited to show Mother Nature some love! What better way to ring in Earth Month than by celebrating recycling? How about by giving away some eco-friendly art?

We’re giving those who pledge to recycle the chance to win one of six Recycled Glass Night Lights by Vawn and Mike Gray! You can vow to help the planet by:

1.) Go above and beyond recycling newspapers and soda cans. Pledge to recycle old linens, batteries, cell phones, and other items that don’t get picked up by the side of your curb.

2.) Look carefully at the packaging on the items you buy. Pledge to cut down on buying items that can’t be recycled, or come in extra packaging that will end up in the trash.

3.) Start reusing materials to create art projects of your own!

Three contestants will be chosen at random to receive the Recycled Pelican Night Light, and three more will be chosen to win the Recycled Sandpiper Night Light.

Continue Reading…

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