From Trash {Literally} to Treasures

I wore my grubbiest thrift store boots to attend the Art at the Dump exhibit sponsored by Recology yesterday thinking I’d be dodging old beer cans and sludge, only to find out that it was not being held literally at the dump, but in an art studio adjacent to it.  They were even serving wine. 

Recology, for those of you unfamiliar like me, is the award-winning zero-waste arm of the garbage company.  They are 100% employee-owned and consider themselves an environmental company, delivering some of the most innovative recycling programs in the country including large-scale composting of food and organic wastes, material recovery facilities, and construction and demolition debris recycling for homes and businesses.

Apparently, the recycling experience of Recology goes back to the turn of the century when Bay Area garbage men known as “scavengers” saw the recycling opportunities in the waste stream and actively sought out positive uses for our trash.  Recology is now known as the first company to have established a transfer station, built one of the first state-of-the-art material recovery operations and pioneered the city’s first curbside composting program in the U.S. 

Recology collects food scraps, yard trimmings, paper, plastics, glass, metal and construction and demolitions material, bulky items, clothing, and carpets.  There are immense benefits to recycling, such as saving between 17 and 31 trees for every ton of 100% recycled paper purchased, says Recycled Papers, The Essential Guide by Claudia Thompson, published by the MIT Press. However, the positive impacts go far beyond trees, and include:

  • Saving over 4,000 kilowatt hours of energy and 7,000 gallons of water (EPA report to Congress)
  • Saving 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space with every ton of paper that is recycled (The National Solid Waste Management Association)
  • Keeping 60 pounds of air pollution out of the atmosphere for every ton of 100% recycled paper used (U.S. EPA)

But, merely putting recyclable materials in our recycling bins will not generate these environmental benefits. We should also consider purchasing products made with recycled content in order to reduce the demand for virgin materials to improve and increase diversion of waste from landfills.

Recology sponsors an Artist in Residence program in which artists use items diverted from the waste stream to create artistic treasures.   At the current exhibit, we saw sculpture made from building materials like ribar, as well as old oil cans.  There were even two living pods (which you can purchase) that are made entirely of used building materials.  They would make a great backyard play area for kids or a fun overnight sleeping area for out-of-town guests.


Picture 1 of 14

My favorite part of the exhibit, however, was the section just outside the walls of displayed art where actual items rescued from the waste stream could be hauled away for FREE.  There was a box of dress up clothes, old yarn and sewing supplies, old sheet music, clothing, shoes and potted plants minus the plant.  There were old dishes and books and various odds and ends that would have been added to the landfill but instead got a second chance at life. 

Recology holds open studios several times a year, so check out their website for more information.  Who knew going to the dump could be so creative and inspiring?

503 Tunnel Avenue
San Francisco, CA  94134

(415) 330-1415

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  1. Great post- great photos! Looks like a really fun time! I’m from Boston, but heading out to San Fran soon, so I might have to check this place out- esp. as I’m working on another book on recycled-material/on-the-cheap dwellings. Great blog btw!
    -Derek “Deek” Diedricksen

    1. Hey there, Deek! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I’m actually heading out to Boston soon. Any good thrift stores out your way? Hope you have a great time in the City and find some good treasures. Happy Thrifting! Mimi

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