From trash to treasure

By Tom Curtis 13 January 2010
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Truly recycling means much more than council’s convenient kerbside bins.

Alison Fung likes to pick through her neighbours’ rubbish. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect would be frowned upon in the desirable Sydney suburb of Gladesville. But Alison is part of a growing mainstream movement embracing the reuse of things that might otherwise end up in landfill. She takes the stuffing from furniture left out for council pick-ups, covers it with salvaged fabric and turns it into soft furnishings.

“People love it,” Alison, a 48-year-old university administrator, says. “At my age now I’m really respecting the Earth and understanding a lot more about reuse and recycling.”

Nearly every Australian household recycles – 95 per cent according to a Hyder Consulting report to the Federal Government last year, Waste and Recycling in Australia. But shutting the lid on the council recycling bin, with its cargo of paper, plastic, metal cans and glass, is where being green about waste ends for most of us.

We as a nation dispose of 21 million tonnes of rubbish a year, more than half of what we produce, and most of that goes to landfill. What are we doing about the 48,300 tonnes of disposable nappies, 77,000 tonnes of car batteries, 179,300 tonnes of white goods and 4.2 million tonnes of food packaging that we chuck out every 12 months?

For a growing number of people, recycling these things – or better still, reusing or not buying them in the first place – is now a priority. And it is getting easier to join them, albeit slowly.

Narelle Mantle’s home is furnished extensively with things that would normally end up at the tip after being thrown out as rejects by manufacturers: chairs, coffee tables, cushions, rugs, crockery, even a fridge.

She is general manager of Reverse Garbage, a not-for-profit organisation that collects and sells industrial and commercial discards – plastics, fabrics, leather, wood, paper, electrical goods, office furniture and paint – from its base in Sydney’s inner-west. Reverse Garbage, which has been in operation for more than 30 years, saves more than 12,000 cu. m from landfill each year and has a turnover of almost $1 million, which is reinvested into reuse products.
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See the full list of products and stockists mentioned in this article.

Ed’s note:Giraffes pictured are by pepperstitches; online store here.