Looking for a creative alternative to recycling? Build with plastic

| August 21, 2013

If you diligently recycle your plastic water and soda bottles, you may be patting yourself on the back for making a green choice.

Laura Kutner wants you to make a more creative — and even greener — choice.

The Portland, Oregon native founded Trash for Peace, a 501(c)3 organization with a clear mission: “To educate and spread awareness about the capacity we have as human beings to use our creativity and innovation to replace the concept of trash with resourcefulness and giving back. We strive to encourage people to reduce, reuse, and then recycle for a healthier and more peaceful planet.”

build with plastic

Trash for Peace prevents plastic bottles from ending up in landfills and processing plants in China. From Mr. T in DC.

For Laura Kutner and Trash for Peace, “recycle” is listed last on the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra for good reason. “Plastic is actually extremely hard to recycle,” Kutner told the Portland Tribune. “It takes much less energy for us to drill a hole in it and make something out of it than to truck it to the recycling center, chop it into little bits, ship it to China, process it into something else, and then ship it to consumers.”

As the Portland Tribune article points, out, “that’s just for the plastic that is recycled.” The article cites a 2011 study by Columbia University’s Earth Engineering Council revealing that, in America, “more than 85 percent of plastics just sit in a landfill.”

Kutner prefers to build with plastic. Her first effort was a recycling bin made out of “old, clear-plastic Starbucks drink cups.” She got the idea while working at a Starbucks store where she was “appalled at how many people were just throwing away what she had come to see as very useful plastic.”

build with plastic

Trash for Peace’s “Cabinetry Craft” bin is made from re-purposed cabinet doors, banisters and, of course, plastic bottles. From Trash for Peace.

With that recycled recycling bin, Trash for Peace was born. Today, they’ve made “about 50 recycling bins out of reused plastics, wood, computer wires and bicycle components, boosting recycling rates wherever they are placed.”

There is, of course, something ingenious about a recycled recycling bin. Kutner says that many people think she should patent her design, but that’s not the point. She’d prefer that people get inspired by the design and follow suit. In fact, they even post building plans for the bins on their website.

Why the green generosity? Perhaps because Kutner has seen first-hand how discarded plastic can devastate a community. Kutner served in the Peace Corps in Guatemala and was saddened at the “mountains of plastic trash littering the streets.”

Kutner decided that the plastic could be used for something useful. If you think recycling bins are impressive, get a load of this: believe it or not, Kutner was behind an initiative in Guatemala that turned plastic waste into schools. Yes, schools. These schools were built “using wire framing, cement and plastic bottles that children collected and stuffed with plastic trash.”

The idea caught on. “A partner organization has since built 25 of these durable and well-insulated schools in Guatemala. In the process, communities came together to rid their town of plastic trash that clogs their streets and waterways, and causes real damage during floods and hurricanes.”

Today, Trash for Peace partners with schools in the U.S., “using a curriculum that teaches children about plastic waste through a hands-on [recycling] bin project.” This is an extremely popular program with children, and teachers love it as well. They provide the bin kits free to schools, and students find the discarded bottles.

Recycling bins are just the beginning. Trash for Peace has built coffee tables and other furniture, and the possibilities are endless.

So the next time you’re ready to drop a bottle in the recycling bin, think about just how many things it could be.

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Category: Plastic

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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