Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Is this the ultimate rubbish idea?

Lavoisier's law of the conservation of mass: matter is neither created nor destroyed. It is transformed.
In my fantasy life, I am a talented crafter and maker of beautiful things. Unfortunately, I was born with next to zero motor skills and am utterly incapable of making anything arty with my hands. Really nothing at all. A monkey with a paintbrush will paint a straighter line that I could ever manage.
Still, now and again I seem to forget my shocking lack of artistic talent and launch into various forms of art, all of which end up either abandoned or in the bin sooner or later. I just need to get that manual crafts urge out of my system whenever I get it.
picture: designsponge.com curtain project
This is a bit frustrating, as I love the idea of doing some DYI or spending my evenings crocheting. Since starting writing this blog, I often come across great ideas for projects using old coffee tins, scrap paper and household items. I know it is only a matter of time before I will relapse and try my (shaky) hand at something I see in Designsponge. And it will all end in tears.

Which is why I have mixed expectations for an upcoming show on the National Geographic channel: The Garbage Moguls. Thank you, American television, for such funny show titles. The idea behind the programme, however, is pure sustainability gold: "Recycling gets a makeover with a quirky group of young eco-capitalists at TerraCycle, Inc. Using only materials found in the trash, the team will transform cereal boxes into notebooks, newspaper into pencils and cookie wrappers into kites."

TerraCycle is a gem of a business idea. Or it was when it was created back in 2001. Today, it’s much more than idea, with a multi-million dollar turnover and branches expanding to Canada, Mexico, Brazil and the UK, manufacturing various products out of one raw material: waste.

Its founder, Tom Szaky, was a 19-year-old Princeton undergraduate when he started Terra Cycle, bottling home-made fertiliser made of worm waste. The worms, by turn, were fed by also home-made compost. The packaging was taken care of by using discarded soft drinks bottles. Incredibly, the simple idea evolved into “the coolest little startup in America”, according to Inc.Magazine, manufacturing pencil cases from crisps packets, insulated lunch boxes out of Starbucks sweet warppers and even a fence with recycled drinks pouches.
Four months ago, when we started writing this blog, I accepted the project as a challenge and to find out how much of the ethical consumerism concept was just buzz or marketing talk. I wanted to find out how much, if any, benefit was there in supporting products labelled as fair trade, organic, local, recycled. We’re still learning, and I admit I have reservations against some brands we’ve seen. In particular, higher priced fair-trade products that are simply not competitive or good enough.
The business model at TerraCycle, however, really sums up everything about the ideal sustainable and ethical business:
- Their products are entirely made of material on its way to the landfill.
- They have good, attractive products. People buy them because they’re competitive, not because they’re for a god cause. And so customers are likely to go back and buy again, as opposed to looking at it as a one-off donation.
- Where do they find the rubbish? They organise charity rubbish collections, donating money against weight collected to non-profits. They also have lucrative contracts to collect rubbish that is not easily recyclable.
- TerraCycle’s products are available in big-name stores like WalMart, Target and Home Depot. Yes, an ideal, fair and sustainable world would question certain pricing tactics and labour standards from big corporates. But in the real world, change is done one step at a time. Partnership with a gigantic retailer that will get your name and worthwhile business ideas a lot of visibility is a good thing.
This is all very exciting and makes the point of being an ethical consumer as clear as anything. It is possible for a real, lucrative business to benefit the environment, the economy, society and even create a sense of community.

I am, however, beginning to dread watching the show a bit. I just know that within 5 minutes I’ll be reaching for the tool box – access to which has now been expressly denied to me - ready to manufacture a bread maker out of discarded shoelaces, only to have my dreams crushed when I get glue in my hair.
In the meantime, let me get busy with my crayons while I leave you with a taster of some of my finest creations.

Tears Of Seaman, from memory. Crayon. Inspired by that spectacular goal by Ronaldinho in the 2002 World Cup

disastrous attempt at removing carpet and painting the stairs. Abandoned in rage and with fingers covered in blisters.

No comments:

Post a Comment