Turning Trash Into Craftcomments (2) July 26th, 2008
Tiffany Threadgould is quite the genius at taking trash and making it into cool things. Her Brooklyn company, RePlayGround, champions creative reuse in several ways: it designs products from reused materials, it creates kits to help you make stuff from your recyclables, and it also produces live events to give the public some hands-on experience at turning cast-off things into useful ones.
I recently had a chance to ask Tiffany about how she got started down this path, and where it's led her. Be sure as well to visit the RePlayGround website, where you'll find great free DIY projects. You can also get to know Tiffany better via this great video.
How did you first become interested in the idea of turning trash into useful things?
As a kid I used to help my parents compost in our vegetable garden, and I also remember taking old chewing gum wrappers and turning them into bracelets.
When I moved to New York City in my early 20's I became a much more focused "Design Junkie" and furnished my apartment from castoffs other people discarded. People throw away such great things! Dumpster diving lead me back to design school to figure out how to turn designing from scrap materials into new as career.
What are a couple of your favorite RePlayGround projects? Which ones have made the biggest environmental impact, or which ones are especially creative?
One of my favorite projects is the Refocus Room Divider. I created it for my graduate thesis in 2002. It's made from over 1,000 empty film canisters. Of course, digital film has made the canisters hard to come-by so someday this will be a relic. It's such a simple solution and uses a large amount of scrap material. Plus I had a lot of friends help me assemble it all.
Another favorite is the wine cork trivet. It's a way to get the end user involved in making their own trivet. And it's so easy to do. I like to make recycling easy.
Does a piece of scrap inspire a product design, or do you get the design idea first, and then look for the scrap?
It works both ways. It depends on the materials. One brainstorming process I have started with a stack of flashcards (made from recycled business cards). I'll pick 2 cards - 1 is the starting material and 1 is the finished product. I try to see if I can make them work together. Like a milk carton cookie jar, or a tire picture frame. They don't always work literally, but thinking about items that wouldn't commonly be turned into something else is a great way to think outside the recycling bin.
Where do you get the scrap RePlayGround uses in its projects?
All over the place. I've been collecting lots of cereal boxes lately, and in my neighborhood Tuesday night is recycling night. So I walk around and pick cereal boxes out of neighbors recycling bins. Friends often save me scrap; people who've been to my website often send me scrap; and corporations sometimes give me pre-consumer scrap.
What is your best-ever dumpster-diving score?
There are so many! One of the first items was half a mannequin that I found on the Upper West Side in Manhattan near where I used to live. That later became a lamp, but when I first found it a friend and I had so much fun running around the streets pretending we had a third leg.
Another time I was working on a lamp assignment for school. On the way home some old mini-blinds were sticking out of the trash. Those became the Dawn mini-blind lamp. You never know where inspiration will come from.
Let's say a crafter is interested in creative re-use, but isn't sure where to start. What suggestions do you have for looking more creatively at your trash?
Let go of what it used to be and study your scrap to see what qualities it has. Food packaging is great because it's so sturdy. Plus there's so much of it. Items like orange juice cartons are waterproof. Packaging like cereal boxes are colorful and have cool graphics. And items like cardboard boxes are super-sturdy. Identify those qualities and use that as your starting point.