Second Time Around

Eco-Entrepreneurs Are Making New Products From Recycled Materials

Environmentalists are always talking about the three Rs-reduce, reuse and recycle. But what about the fourth R-remake? Like…rescuing that punctured bicycle tire from the garage’s bowels and, for example…fashioning new neckwear?

Making products from recycled materials has evolved from a strictly green market into mainstream consumer practice. To keep up, eco-entrepreneurs are dusting off their creative caps in order to reclaim the abundant resources destined for landfills. And according to Joel Makower, author of The Green Consumer, buying recycled conserves resources and energy, reduces waste pollution and creates new jobs. His new book, 10 Easy Ways to Buy Recycled, teaches readers to close the loop by purchasing recycled toys, clothing, furniture, even artwork. “If you’re not buying recycled products, you’re not really recycling,” says Makower.

New York-based Tecnotes buys landfill-destined computer circuit boards to make keychains, clipboards and magnets.

For instance, those two-liter soda bottles you returned to the grocery store six months ago could now be in your child’s toy chest. Indeed, with “Popsi,” five plastic soda bottles create a huggable toy and an environmental lesson. A “trashy babe” according to her makers, Popsi is an adorable 10-inch doll with organic cotton hair and a recycled soda bottle body. Her pop bottle packaging includes the story “Secrets of the Dump” and a packet of sunflower seeds to plant in the bottom of the bottle.

“Popsi really teaches children that anything in life can be useful,” says Geraldine McMains, the doll’s creator, who involves children in her project through pop bottle collection contests in Los Angeles. “Everything is useful; even soda bottles can be turned into something fabulous.”

Old soda bottles can live again as all-purpose totes. Washington-based Casey Company offers Ecospun products such as fanny packs, backpacks, wallets, book covers and pet supplies made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles. Casey’s products are durable, easy to clean, and water and stain-resistant. Co-founder David Bendsten says that customers also respond favorably because it is “nice to see the end result from what’s on the curb every week.” Casey Company’s Orca Island Pack ($35) is a roomy waist pack with various compartments that appreciative customers call the “carry your ferret bag.”

Colorado-based Jagged Edge Mountain Gear uses those same soda bottles-converted to a product called ECO fleece-as the basis for an extensive line of jackets, packs, sweaters and vests.

Fashionable Remakes

Old sweaters saved from the dump, cut into pieces and sewn back together patchwork-style, are part of Usine Calico’s new fall line. “Reusing is the best alternative. It’s better to use what you have because you stop taking from nature,” says Julie Lefebvre, Usine Calico designer and part owner. The company also produces polos, bodysuits and baby Ts from 100 percent post-industrial (leftover from the manufacturing process) cotton, and creates vintage eyewear by replacing the lenses in sunglasses destined for the landfill. Accessories include a line of bags made from recycled innertubes, and briefcases formed from recycled tin cans.

And why not accessorize that eco-outfit with junk? Literally. Vermont-based Alchemy turns binding wire from lumber yards into earrings, and stove pipes into necklaces.

Taking social responsibility another step is The Gabbriel Ichak Design Studio in New York City, which hires homeless people to collect bottle caps and aluminum cans for jewelry, bags and other accessories. “It inspires people to see what can be made out of garbage,” says designer Ichak, who feels there is no other choice but to buy recycled products. He also creates patches from old clothes and recycled plastic.

Still looking for a great gift idea? One that’s been road-tested? Try Dennis LaShire’s Rubber-Necker Ties made from 99 percent recycled tires. Besides saving 2,000 tires from landfills each year, LaShire donates all profits to scholarship funds and The Salvation Army.

In 1996, Oregon-based Resource Revival collected 30,000 pounds of bicycle inner tubes, chains, gears, wheels and handle bars to create a variety of products from key rings to coffee tables. “Our goal is to bring recycled products into the mainstream,” says founder Graham Bergh. Picture frames made out of bicycle innertubes ($5) and chains (up to $98) are bestsellers. The company also makes belts, candle holders and dog collars, and donates profits to the Community Cycling Center so kids can work on bikes and earn points towards their own two-wheeler.

Greetings From Home or Office

On the home front, you can “green” your consumer dollars by redirecting them to companies with a conscience. Every year $650 million worth of obsolete or defective computer circuit boards are scrapped; the Long Island-based Tecnotes buys over 300,000 of these boards to make journals, clipboards and keytags ($3 to $35) that would otherwise be landfilled or smelted. President Mitch Davis says, “Reuse is a no-brainer. You take material that has negative value and turn it into something positive.”

Trex Photo

This Trex deck and chair were fashioned from plastic grocery bags, creating a splinter-free finish.

This year Americans will purchase over seven billion greeting cards. The National Recycling Coalition’s (NRC’s) Reuse-a-Card program in Virginia sells stickers made from recycled paper (with soy-based inks) to cover up old personal messages on greeting cards and envelopes ($20 for a set of 24) so that they can be reused. Linda Shotwell, NRC’s director of communications, says that customers like sending a message that it’s important to conserve natural resources.

Flowers, coconut husks, blue jeans, socks and grass cuttings are some of the ingredients World Paper uses to make tree-free stationery, cards, notebooks and wrapping paper. “We think what we’re doing is way beyond recycled paper, which still uses trees and chemicals,” says owner Alexandra Soteriou, who says that World Paper is also chemical-free. The United Nations Industrial Organization project helped create World Paper, which produces its artfully-made pieces by employing villagers in India and Nepal.

And there’s no better way to write messages on reused cards or denim paper than with a Signature Marketing pencil (25 cents) made out of reclaimed currency that’s sold by the Federal Reserve after it’s been shredded. Signature converts the paper waste into pulp, manufacturing ordinary looking pencils from it. Evelyn Golden, a company partner, estimates that each pencil (made from $7.40 in cash) is about 70 percent post-consumer material-and 30 percent trim waste from original money print runs.

From Grocery Shelf to Backyard Bench

Poly-Wood’s 50 styles of patio furniture are created from 100 percent recycled

milk jugs. Prices are higher than traditional patio furniture, but President Brian Thompson says that “once people get over the initial shock, they really don’t mind” paying the extra money. Poly-Wood offers some added value; it’s easy to care for and able to withstand the harshest of climates.

Virginia-based Trex creates traditional-sized lumber made from 100 percent recycled stretch film plastic and reclaimed hardwood waste that can be used to build decks and playgrounds. Sixty-two supermarkets sell used plastic grocery, dry cleaning and merchandise bags to Trex’s “Bring Back the Sack” program. Joni Lynch, product manager, explains that customers like the maintenance-free quality and pricing “comparable to better grades like redwood and cedar.” She notes that you can even “dance barefoot” on a Trex surface without slipping or getting splinters.

Saving the Earth starts with saving your garbage from landfills. A growing number of companies have already realized the benefits of closing the loop. Next time you think about throwing away old junk, imagine the possibilities.

SHANNON GLYNN and MEGAN WASP are interns at E.