By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
John Blasi, an inmate in Florida, uses candy wrappers to make art. He learned it from reading about another prisoner in California, making paint out of candy wrappers.
The idea to create art from garbage —turning waste into useful materials —creating something beautiful out of worthless litter—is an inventive recycling concept.
I am not an artist, but the inmates have inspired me. You don’t have to be an artist to make art. We all have creative instincts to improve our environment by reducing the amount of rubbish we individually produce.
Today’s eco-friendly slogan is “recycle, reduce, and reuse.” What intrigues me is how to integrate “reduce and reuse” to “remake.” It has become my recent lifestyle. Everyone, in his or her small way, can “remake” things to better the environment. “Rediscover” what you have, “repurpose” things for new functions, and then “re-make” to fit your needs.
My past behavior was strictly anti-environment. Whenever I needed something, my first thought was, how and where should I buy. Spend money. Although I am not in the same league as people who build their new home with doors from old houses, the satisfaction for me in remaking things gives me immense pleasure. Challenging my brain is my goal.
Going through my shelves and closets, I often discover “treasures” that I have forgotten about for a long time. It is a satisfying process, especially for those who love to downsize and reduce the amount of stuff they have. Little did I know, it provides me a chance to “play.” Turn useless junk into purposeful tools. You would be surprised how much stuff you have at home, untouched. I have friends who have bought stuff with the price tags still attached onto the merchandise.
I remake things not because I want to save money. Simply, I feel magical. It empowers me, realizing that I can redesign materials even on a small scale. It motivates me to be a problem solver and resourceful. Creativity enhances neuroplasticity and connects neurons inside the brain. Studies have found that creativity lowers anxiety. It delights me and gives me a sense of accomplishment. And I have examples to share.
When I started to learn to play the piano, I bought a keyboard instead because it takes up less room. The keyboard needs a cover. I couldn’t find a runner long and wide enough to cover the whole keyboard. Besides, it’s unreasonably expensive for an odd size. So I cut my square-sized shape silk scarf (which was buried in my closet for years) into two halves, and sewed it together. It’s now a beautiful and perfect cover.
My friend gave me a long formal scarf that I never wore. I don’t use a scarf because most of the time, I wear pants, convenient to work as a journalist with my notepad and camera as my constant companions. The scarf is now my 59-inch-long tablecloth for my kitchen table. No sewing is required. It just fits.
When I travel, I take mini boxes, compliments of Nordstrom whenever I buy my cosmetics—they give me samples of skin care products. And they are left in my bathroom. Now, I have over 60 of them to store my earrings. Do I want the sample creams, or am I actually after those mini plastics boxes?
Over the years, I have collected tons of name tags from the events I attended. Plastic name tags are expensive, it is about a dollar each. I don’t throw them away. Every few years, we host a reception for Seattle Chinese Post writers. My staff designed each writer a pretty individual name tag, and the writers were so excited when they saw their own name printed, not hand-written, that they wanted to keep them as souvenirs. Times have changed, event organizers are now smarter, and they ask for our name tags back after the event. But I still have plenty left.
My dark gray pants have two half-inch holes. Some might think having holes in the pants is considered chic. No, it’s not my definition of style. Buying a piece of gray fabric just to fill in two little holes in my pants is extravagant. I needed only a tiny piece of fabric, less than three inches long. So I started digging through my closet. I found a gray pajama coat. If I just cut a piece of fabric from the coat, it would ruin the coat. I flipped the coat back and forth, inside out. Then I saw a gray brand tag inside on the top, which was big enough to fill the two holes in my pants. So I unthreaded the tag and sewed it on my pants. No one could tell there were holes in my pants anymore.
Listening to music on my iPad at night is what I do before I go to bed. It puts me to sleep.
However, the darkened iPad screen was still too bright in the dark. Instead of buying a black cover, I searched around and found a small painting in my bedroom. However, the bright screen could shine through the painting. So I cut a red file to expand the size of the painting. It works. Few people use files these days. I am glad I can reuse them.
Bring your own to-go boxes. When I was in Hong Kong, my aunt would bring her own containers for leftovers and to-go items. If diners don’t, restaurants would charge diners $1 HK (about 75 cents US) for each box. If you enforce that in Seattle, people will curse management. Already, customers were angry years ago when the city implemented the plastic bags ban. But it actually makes sense for the businesses, customers, and the environment.
Asian restaurants have reported that businesses are down between 10 to 30 percent due to people being paranoid over the coronavirus. We can support restaurants by bringing our own boxes for leftovers to help the restaurants cut costs, and encourage others to resume dining out.
Can we replace plastics? Lately, a scientist spoke about a new action to protect the environment by urging the public to refuse to use and buy items made of plastics, which are not biodegradable and extremely damaging to the environment, especially oceans with tons of floating plastics found inside sea animals and drifting on shore.
My utmost admiration for those who refuse to buy or use plastics. Yet, is it possible that we can eliminate plastics completely? We don’t have an alternative to replace plastics.
Perhaps, we can try to reduce the use of plastics. But I cannot refuse it in the Chinatown-International District (ID), when 99 percent of the restaurants and grocery stores sell bottled water, and use plastic to-go boxes. So always remember to bring your grocery bags for shopping. Bring two or three bags and not just one. You can help to reduce waste.
If you don’t have bags, ID grocery stores will give you a plastic or paper bag. Then, think of your bag ending up inside the belly of a whale.
A whale found in Norway in 2017 had 30 plastic bags in its stomach. It happens to other animals, too. Don’t forget, your habits can impact the environment. Only you can decide to protect or hurt our environment.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.