Can we 'Make Garbage Great' with a coffee table book?

Make Garbage Great cover
© TerraCycle

TerraCycle is in the business of making traditionally non-recyclable waste streams recyclable for the first time. We’ve had a great deal of success in accomplishing this, thanks in no small part to the amazing individuals, families, schools and countless other groups collecting waste through the many TerraCycle Brigade programs. We have seen individuals and organizations from all walks of life committed to recycling in their communities: elementary schools collecting drink pouches, a local office collecting writing instruments and tape dispensers, a suburban family collecting in half a dozen different programs – the desire to reduce waste and start recycling is clearly becoming a fundamental component of many people’s lives.

Yet even with all of our successes, inspiring and motivating individuals like our fantastic collectors continues to be a challenge. For the already eco-minded (like my fellow TreeHuggers), recycling and reducing waste are no-brainers. However, for many others the topic remains an elusively complicated and, let’s be honest, often boring subject. For many of these people, being engaged requires some external motivation and education.

These are some of the reasons why, over the past few years, I’ve taken it upon myself to write two books, covering everything from the founding of TerraCycle and our early struggles as a young green company, to the economics of waste and corporate-sponsored recycling programs. The books, Revolution in a Bottle and Outsmart Waste, have been helpful tools for us, providing readers with a window into TerraCycle’s world that, hopefully, helps facilitate their transformation into engaged stewards of the environment.

timtak/CC BY 2.0

We’ve seen such great responses to these first two books that we decided to go ahead and write a third. Last week, TerraCycle’s first coffee table book was released – Make Garbage Great. It’s completely different from anything we’ve ever written, full of DIY crafting projects that utilize waste, the history of garbage, plenty of beautiful images, zero waste tips, short essays, resources for readers, and much more. Each chapter focuses on a different material (plastic, metal, paper, textile, wood, rubber, glass, and organics), detailing the history of each material, how we make products out of them, and what the states of their respective waste streams are today. It’s light-hearted, fun, family-friendly, and interactive – and that’s exactly the point.

We want to make the subject matter so approachable, simple, interesting and engaging that it becomes a conversation piece, because let’s be realistic here: the vast majority of people aren’t mingling at cocktail parties and family functions to talk about the state of polyethylene recycling, or the growing need for a national composting infrastructure.

The hope to engage readers was one of the main reasons we decided on the coffee table book format. We want people to start discussions in their living rooms, to lend the book to their friends, and to share it with the kids. It’s the kind of book that is meant to be displayed in your living space for visitors to pick up and browse through. More importantly, it presents to readers the worlds of waste, recycling and sustainability without the often brain-numbing academic jargon. We want the conversation open to anyone, not just sustainability executives, engineers or committed environmentalists.

At the end of the day, our goal with Make Garbage Great is to make recycling and waste a part of our everyday, mainstream conversations. Sustainability is, thankfully, becoming a far more visible subject today, but there is still a lot of work to do. Besides, we can’t realistically hope to tackle our uncontrollable generation of waste (and the myriad other environmental issues we currently face) without first educating consumers, raising environmental awareness, and inspiring people to join in the sustainability conversation.

Tags: Books | Recycling | Waste


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