The (Milk Carton) Studio Sessions – Reclaimed Philosophies

Published: November 1, 2017 


I just finished a whirl wind of a month, and have to admit, I overbooked myself. It may have been one too many painting parties, or one too many markets, or one too many studio projects, but alas, I am feeling the burn….burn out, that is. I think a part of that burn also has to do with the fact that a portion of my time was spent consumed by garbage, and I mean that figuratively, of course. This month, I went to council asking for a commitment from the municipality on the re-opening of the reclaim room at the transfer station. You may have read the article that Jennifer Thurbide wrote in that regard last week. I went to council after doing an online survey through Facebook and receiving over 200 responses in less than a week. I did some research and interviewed others and even had Jeff Walters interview me about the reclaim station “crusade” I am on, via CBC radio. Why is the reclaim station such an important part of my life? Why is this such a big deal for me? Where do I begin in sharing this with you?

First of all, there is the memory connection, which for me is always my strongest motivation. I have memories of booting around in the back roads with my dad and a metal detector, finding things that others threw away and always looking at them as treasures. My sister and I had a wicked bottle cap collection that I regret not having anymore. On those trips, my dad always made sure to pick up garbage that was seen and was keen to ensure that I never littered. I learned that the hard way once when I dropped a Trident gum wrapper on the ground in front of the Esso station in Ignace and my dad did a U-turn on the Trans-Canada like Starsky and Hutch and barreled over to me to tell me to pick it up. Holy moly. I never littered again. Taking care of Mother Earth was instilled in me in the scariest of ways! So when the reclaim station is closed and I know that things that would normally be put in the reclaim for others to use is simply being thrown away, it kind of makes me feel sad for the earth because I was taught to respect it. It is fair to say that sometimes people tried to put actual garbage in the reclaim station and that in itself is a shame. With some new perspective, that is an easy change. It simply means ensuring that everyone’s stuff is thoroughly checked before being allowed to be put in reclaim. It also may involve a small additional fee so that if at the end of the week when stuff does have to go to the garbage, at least the cost of throwing it away is covered.

Another reason the reclaim station is important to me is because it has a ripple effect in so many different ways. There are some people that use the reclaim as a way to clothe themselves or their family. I have collected hats and mitts and taken them home, thoroughly washed them and passed them on to others that need them. We all know it sucks to be cold. The reclaim station also harkens to the “tinkerer” in all of us; those that need a little part off of a slightly broken item. I have used so many things at the reclaim station for art projects that it isn’t even funny. I used to have students ask me to look out for things to use in their art projects all the time. I have had people in the community send me their “wish list” of needed items, and can I keep my eyes peeled if I’m there before them? It also ensures that stuff that isn’t necessarily sellable but still useable does not get thrown away. When interviewing Sue Hostetler, she stated that they cannot take those kinds of items at their second hand store because they are asking for payment for said items. They try to fix some items, but ultimately cannot invest their time in repairs. People do not want to buy something that they already have to fix, but at the reclaim, that’s kind of the underlying idea. That chair just needs a bit of glue and paint. That awesome jacket just needs a new zipper, and so forth.

And ultimately, we not only need to be, but have to be genuinely conscious of how we deal with everything we consume. With the “circular economy” (Google it) becoming a very real concept that the Ministry of Environment is going forward with, everyone is going to be put in a position of ensuring they are responsible for every single aspect of the items they buy and get rid of, right down to the packaging of said items. It is eventually going to be mandated and a reclaim station in every community will be a part of that mandate. We can scoff all we want but the truth is we have plugged up with earth with our irresponsibility. It’s just a matter of time before we have to pay the consequences of such actions. It is going to take thinking back to our grandparents and great grandparents who used everything so that nothing was wasted. At our farm, some of the door handles on outbuildings were made out of the handle of jerry cans. Smart thinking! One could even go out of their way to profit from something like that.

Yet, interestingly, one of the questions I asked on the survey was whether anyone uses the reclaim for their own personal profit, and some people responded with an adamant “no”, basically saying it is shameful to do so. To that, I say “phooey”. I have profited from the reclaim station and so have you. When I take home a beautiful Hollister sweater that would have cost me $100 to buy brand new, I have put money in my pocket. And I have taken items from reclaim that I know are of vintage or antique value, cleaned up said product and re-sold for profit. To those that poo-poo that, I strongly suggest that before you put anything in reclaim, on Facebook’s Buy and Sell, or take the second hand store, first find out the cost of said item by doing a bit of internet research, usually via eBay. You will get a general idea of how much that item costs and can actually, with a bit of work, sell it for what it is worth to someone that will truly appreciate it.

I could go on and on about “garbage”. I could probably start writing a weekly column just using the theme of the landfill as my inspiration and give you a hundred stories! As I am seeing from all of the feedback and emails that I am receiving from the public, the reclaim room is an important part of our community and I am hoping to hear the commitment from our municipality in publicly stating that it will truly be re-opened in the near future.

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