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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Mayer

Recycled Art in a Pandemic

Another gloom and doom save the earth piece?  Unfortunately, yes, but hopefully more uplifting than the usual gloom and doom with a little bit of light hearted DIY peppered in. A warm and sunny Monday in May felt like a good day to repaint the chairs on my upper porch.  While building our house several years ago during the design phase I declared to the various builders and architects that I wanted to step outside to and feel the weather when I first wake up in the morning.  The outdoors seemed so far away years ago when I lived in New York City.  To step outside required walking down a long hallway, heavy locked double doors and stairs.  Now I am so grateful to get a breath of fresh air at my leisure.  As much as I love my bedroom porch we spend very little time sitting out there. To buy expensive furniture for it  always felt frivolous yet to drive up to my house and see the porch vacant didn’t feel right either.  It was a perfect solution to put two old Adirondack chairs that I had purchased a while back that decayed over the years.  The formerly beautiful white chairs, which felt like a symbol of the Hamptons, looked wonderful in my new backyard.  A new homeowner quickly learns the short lifespan of outdoor furniture.  I figured the chairs could move up to the porch to provide a decorative effect instead of consuming space in a landfill. I wiped away the thick layers of outdoor grit and repaired the broken arm with a nail that went into the rotting wood far too easily.  The chairs are clearly shot from one perspective but from another lens a fun creative opportunity to get some white paint out and have my kids make rainbows and peace sign hearts. I love making recycled art.  For me a blank canvas comes with a lot of pressure, especially a brand new one.  However, when the canvas is something that I’m considering throwing out anyway, the stakes are low and my creative juices begin to flow. I figure hey maybe a fresh coat of paint before I toss it.  I start to experiment and feel a sense of ease and then the red carpet rolls out as I fall down an exciting creative rabbit hole.  Before I know it the transformation is triumphant! DIY experts and bloggers would likely be horrified with the age of my paint, the dried brittle condition of my paintbrush and my thick gloopy coats of paint.  To me, pandemic downtime, creative expression, a beautiful day and recycling felt like a perfect equation. People older than I most likely won't understand the kick I got out of my repurposing. In earlier decades that was simply what you did.  For a child born in 1980 and coming of age in the ‘90s there was a shift in mentality that it was more convenient to just buy a new one.  Now 30 years later in 2020 we can see where that got us.  Our increased consumption and developments in manufacturing and marketing, combined with sociopathic corporate practices focused on short term profits has led to critically overfilled landfills.  Recycling became a popular response but now as the markets change there is less need for our endless stream of trash. With pandemic reports of clear air and rejuvenating habitats, it’s confirmation more than ever that we do have an effect on the earth which is good news and bad news.  For a long time I think many of us heard of the gloom and doom of climate change and it led to helpless feelings.  Combined with our destructive patterns of consumption, we figured ‘screw it’, let’s just live the way we want and be comfortable before we destroy the earth.  Now we are seeing proof that with less cars on the road, less manufacturing, less air travel, and more consciousness that climate change can be reversed. I grew up with an environmentally conscious father, which by default made me an environmentalist also.  Recycling was a complex and multifaceted process in my childhood home.  I recall the tall cardboard box in my garage for cardboard items next to the large green container the town provided for commingled recyclable pieces.  There was also a large hanging plastic bag for recyclable thin film plastic that we would bring to the grocery store on shopping days and a compost pile out in my backyard.  When I went to college in South Carolina I was horrified when I was told to throw out my empty beer bottles and enlisted a few friends to help me set up a recycling area for residents on our hallway in the communal bathroom.  On the flip side I was amazed when I moved to San Francisco to see buses running on electric and environmentalism abundant.  New York City living was also impressive with corner garage cans having options for recycling but not quite as impressive when a trip to Boulder revealed door to door compost pick up!    When I moved out to Hampton Bays with two babies fatigue overtook my environmental practices.  The less densely populated  town doesn't offer municipal garbage pick up.  Most residents choose to pay private carters for single stream garbage pick up.  The carters claim they recycle.  Hallelujah, the amazing convenience to throw everything into one bin guilt free and recycle seamlessly!  Like many things, it was too good to be true.  A series of reports in our local paper exposed that the private carters are not adequately recycling.  So now it’s back to a multi step process loading up the pick up truck with boxes of commingled recyclable items, mixed paper, corrugated boxes and thin film plastic to make trips to my town‘s transfer station.  It’s an Inconvenient Truth and Al Gore warned us about in the documentary in 2006.  Now in 2020 raising a 6 and 8 year old I feel like there is no choice but to tell them the truth of why we need to be vigilant in our household practices, to take a stand and do the work. Project Drawdown, ‘The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming’ looked at the many of the proposed solutions and ranked them in terms of efficacy.  Reduction of food waste was a solution that our local Drawdown chapter chose to focus on.  Righty so as roughly a third of the world’s food is never eaten.  Food waste is upsetting on so many levels, the wasted money, disposing the packaging and of course knowing that others around the world are food insecure. I used to love having chickens to eat the leftover pasta I made too much of or my kids refused to eat.  Seeing them eat that along with other food scraps soothed my bad feelings of being wasteful.  When we had to give them up I repeatedly cringed at every banana peel and watermelon rind I threw away.  I started seeking out ways to compost.  It was awesome when I discovered a local not for profit group, the Ecological Culture Initiative, started a community composting program as part of their zero waste initiative.  Now I smile when I see my 6 year old scold my husband when she goes to the garbage to throw something away and see that he accidentally threw something compostable in the can. Bottom line, we need to go above and beyond and make time to cultivate our environmental stewardship if we are serious about having an Earth for our children to inhabit.  Also, have fun making recycled art in your pandemic downtime.

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