Atlanta Artists, Teachers Turn Architectural Trash Into Treasure | WABE 90.1 FM

Atlanta Artists, Teachers Turn Architectural Trash Into Treasure

Aug 10, 2017

It’s Saturday morning in northwest Atlanta, and I’m standing in a warehouse with a middle school art teacher admiring the aesthetic qualities of a loading pallet.

“You see that pallet?” Cherokee County teacher Catherine Woodruff asks, pointing across the room, “It looks like an art piece all by itself.”

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure … or in this case, another person’s art supplies. This past weekend, a partnership of architects and interior designers held a sort of rummage sale with that intent.

While Woodruff is sketching out ideas for her art project, she’s standing next to a cart stacked almost as tall as she is with boxes of … well, all sorts of stuff.

“We’ve got huge carpet tiles, big tile samples — ceramic tiles,” Catherine Price says, scanning the room and going down the list. “Sometimes whole unused boxes, plastic laminate, stone, tons of fabric and some nice residential stuff, wood … just a huge variety.”

Price, an interior designer at Gensler, is the chair for ZeroLandfill this year. ZeroLandfill is an event put on in part by the International Interior Design Association of Georgia. All that stuff that Price just named came from architects and designers — folks who would have catalogs full of, for instance, wood laminate flooring samples. Those firms are encouraged to donate any materials they don’t need in their libraries anymore. Instead of throwing those into the landfill, this event makes them available to the community.

This is where I meet Deborah Ferguson, an elementary school teacher. She shows me the carpet squares she’s collected for her classroom’s seating area, and what looks like upholstery samples which she says she’ll cut into triangles to make into pendants to mark the different areas of her room.

“Just saved myself $8!” she says, smiling, “on a teacher’s salary!”

The crowd that was there digging through boxes and piles of material was largely, but not exclusively made up of art teachers. Ferguson was there with jewelry designer Tia Jakes. She shows me the earrings and bracelets she’s wearing, made from leather scavenged from a previous ZeroLandfill event.

“This is extremely valuable as a craftsperson,” Jakes says. “We spend thousands of dollars on fabrics, leather products. And knowing that we’re doing something to save the earth at the same time, it just makes your heart feel good. We’re doing our little part.”

Thinking about all these materials — the tile, the vinyl, the carpet — there’s nothing that strikes me as being particularly biodegradable. I ask Catherine Price about the environmental impact that ZeroLandfill has in upcycling this stuff.

“Last year, we diverted over 76,000 pounds from the landfill,” she says. “All that material came in over the two Fridays and it was pretty much all gone by the second Saturday. It just feels good to keep that from being wasted and know it’s being put to good use by somebody else.”

This is the event’s fifth year in Atlanta. IIDA Georgia estimates that so far they’ve helped upcycle more than 156,000 pounds of discontinued architectural and interior design samples. And while most of the folks I met that day spoke highly of bringing those ideas of conservation into the classroom or about saving money, one thing I saw again and again was inspiration. Like Catherine Woodruff with that wooden pallet or Anna Fallon, a teacher in Hapeville.

“When you come in here,” Fallon says, “you almost start to flash with ideas of what you can do with all the things. There’s a bunch of vinyl fabric samples that could be good for book covers. So I was like ‘I guess we’re doing a book making unit.’ I have the supplies for it now!”

With the help of teachers like Fallon and Price and Ferguson and many more, the impact of ZeroLandfill can be felt not just in the gross tonnage of waste kept out of the ground, but in classrooms all over metro Atlanta and beyond.

The next ZeroLandfill event takes place Aug. 12 at Certified Finishes in the Upper West Side of Atlanta and runs from 8 a.m. to noon.