recycling for the apocalypse: things to do with old tires

Oh plastic. The plastic that industrial cultures have been diligently filling the world with since Alexander Parkes created parkesine—the first man-made plastic—in 1862 isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Your average hard plastic thing-a-ma-bob could take up to 500 years to decompose. But as most plastics don’t actually decompose as we understand the term—instead just breaking into smaller and smaller pieces—they are even going to be with us after that. So we might as well find something useful to do with them, eh?

Take old tires. What the hell can you do with old tires? Well, you can build playground equipment out of them. (I loved me some tire swinging when I was a kid.) You can use them to make growing potatoes easier. You can make shoe soles. You can even build houses out of them. Luckily—if you can call it luck—creative recycling options for them are about as plentiful as discarded tires are.

Recently I came across a new tire-recycling idea. This tire basket belongs to Mama Beard, but as I only noticed it as we were leaving her house, I didn’t get a chance to ask for the story behind it. Still an inspiring idea for re-purposing old treads.

Have you seen any other resourceful ways to recycle old tires?

Postscript: I wanted to note that a high school student named Daniel Burd appears to have discovered that some types of bacteria, in the right circumstances, can biodegrade plastics. Fascinating stuff. But still not a good reason to keep making so much of the stuff.

Wednesday April 04th 2012, 9:00 am 1 Comment
Filed under: apocalypse now,conspiracies,diy,freegan,recycling for the apocalypse


dumpster find of the week: apocalypse, dark mountain, and rima staines

“Welcome to the end of the world as we know it.  The advertised future has been canceled, due to unforseen circumstances.  All around us there are signs that our whole way of living is passing into histoy.  This is a book about what we do next.”

What could I say about this passage, about my excitment for the book that this statement graces the back of, that wouldn’t sound cliche, that could really communicate the excitment that I feel fluttering in the marrow of my bones at reading these words?  Nothing.  Silence, in fact, is the answer.  A quiet nod at what I can only imagine is a damn fine publication created by people who I would really enjoy sharing an evening with.  Meet the Dark Mountain Project.

Being hopelessly out of touch with everything—even things that interest me passionately—I first heard about the project over a year after the second Dark Mountain anthology was complete, from fellow sometimes-small-houser writer dreamer painter and dream weaver Rima Staines.  (Whose work you might remember from this post.)  The group publishes hardcover anthologies of end-of-civilization writing and art, puts on festivals, and generally deserves a lot of hat-tipping and praise.  As usual, they’ve already described the project well themselves, and I quote:

“We are citizens of the most destructive civilisation in human history. That civilisation is in the process of destroying much of life on Earth in order to feed its ever-advancing appetites. As it does so, it appears to be destroying itself.  All around us are signs that our whole way of life is passing into history.

“In times like these, an honest cultural response is needed. It is through stories that we weave reality. The progress of civilisation itself is a story; as is the centrality of homo sapiens to life on Earth, as is the inevitability of human life getting better, of technology and science digging us out of the hole we are in. These old, creaking stories are now killing us. We need new ones.

“The Dark Mountain Project exists to write them. We aim to question the stories that underpin our failing civilisation, to craft new ones for the age ahead and to reflect clearly and honestly on our place in the world. We call this process Uncivilisation.”

dark mountain and dumpster diving

In a roundabout way, it all comes back to dumpster diving.  Rima painted the cover for the first Dark Mountain Anthology.  On a piece of wood she found in the trash.  And another dumpster find of the week post was born.  Isn’t it purdy?

As for where she scavenged the wood, Rima had this to say:

“As for the Dark Mountain painting….well the piece of wood came from a skip in a rather special place we have in our community called Proper Job.  It’s a community recycling yard or landfill redirection—basically, a kind of heavenly junk yard with piles of old stuff, portacabins and compost… they take all the stuff we don’t want any more, and do house clearances too, and then sell it back to people who do want it.  There are books, clothes, textiles, antiques, old tools, furniture, compost, and all manner of unnamable items, bits of metal, wood, and more…

“If you live round here, you generally tend to go there every week or few to see what’s appeared, and the longer you live in this area, the more you see items passing round to other people. Most of my clothes these days come from there, and friends exclaim when they see their old garments on me. Pieces of furniture make their way round many households in the village, and all in all it’s a great place. They have a skip for old wood that’s not obviously usable and people can take it for firewood for a donation (you can see where the skips are here).

“And that’s where I found the piece of wood for the painting. I love to paint on wood best of all—canvas is too springy, and often I like to keep the bark on (as with my handmade wooden clocks).  Also, I really really love the worn wood aesthestic, flaking paint, and mottled broken colour. The older and more weathered the wood the better, which is why a skip is a better place to find wood for a painting than a wood yard. The weathering gives it soul I think.”

You can see more photos of the painting, as well as read more of Rima’s magical words over at Into the Hermitage.

Have you ever turned scavenged materials into art?



another little trash shed

One of my pals prefers to heat with wood briquettes (as opposed to wood). So she usually orders a little bit of fire wood, and a whole lot of wood briquettes. But this year she didn’t order quite enough fire wood. So she did what all of us really should be doing all year long: she drove the tractor to the big university trash corral, brought home a huge load of pallets, sawed them into tiny pieces, built a shed out of some scavenged stuff she had around, and filled it up with sawed pallet bits. Free heat! I spent most of the summer fantasizing about doing just that. But now I can’t lift a pallet onto the table saw, so I guess I’ll be waiting until next year. And giving my friend high fives. Here are some photos of her pretty little trash shed:



dumpster find of the week

I’ve run out of dumpster find of the week posts. Sure, there are still plenty of odds and ends around the trailer that are from the trash that I have yet to share on dumpster find of the week, but really, I want to hear from you. Are you dumpster diving? Are you hauling home your neighbor’s curbside furniture discards? Did you just eat that slice of pizza somebody left untouched on that restaurant table?! If you did it I want to hear about it. Send me your pictures and your stories! Share the joy of your prize trash picks with the world! Help fight trash picking taboos and stereotypes everywhere! Revel in your own cleverness! My e-mail address is nicolettekyle [at] yahoo [dot] com, and I’ll be sitting at my desk drumming my fingers impatiently against the plastic laptop case until I hear from you.

This week, out of sheer desperation for a dumpster find of the week post, I though we could play “I spy.” But this time the game will go like this: “I spy with my little eye, something from the dumpster.” I will, of course, supply the answers just after the picture, so if you actually feel like taking a guess, then don’t scroll down too far.

So. Ehem. Items in this picture found in the trash from right to left:
1. The fold up stool leaning in front of the wood stove (as well as the one sitting in front of it).
2. The picture frames on the wall.
3. The metal sheet on which the stove is standing.
4. The basket behind the stove holding my kindling.
5. The string of lights hanging on the wall.
6. All the pillows, blankets, and duvet covers you can see.
7. The yellow curtain that the monster under the bed uses to maintain his privacy.
8. The ukulele.
9. A bunch of tiny stuff on all the shelves way too small to see, such as creepy old plastic toys, bottles, magazine holders, and an assortment of books.
10. The chest of drawers beneath the shelves.
11. The trash can.
12. The trailer itself.

Hip hip hooray. Now send me your pictures already. :)



recycling for the apocalypse: cart chair

The riders of the apocalypse will not arrive on horses, as is often assumed. No, their chariots will be welded together out of scrap metal and old shopping carts.

This particular steed—failing in Mad Max character though it is—I built as a birthday present. Inspired by what I had seen in Cologne during the tall bike building workshop, I came home, got out the angle grinder, and chopped off the front of a shopping cart that had been hanging around the Platz. It really isn’t more complicated than that. Slap on some paint, attach a cup holder and a sun umbrella, and you’ve got a sweet little rolling chair/beer cart. Or wedding party chariot, depending on your taste.

Monday March 28th 2011, 7:46 am 2 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,diy,recycling for the apocalypse,wagenplatz


love and trash and love and trash

We interrupt your regularly scheduled dumpster find o’ the week post for this important news bulletin: Click Clack Gorilla is now available on the Love and Trash blog. (Wohoo!) My first post there can be seen here—all the Frankenstein-inspired recycling for the apocalypse ravings you’ve come to expect, with some pictures that will look familiar to those who’ve been around the gorilla block.

Love and Trash is a pretty frickin’ awesome collection of blogs about diy-ing, and I am several shades of flattered to find my writing among such good company. My posts will be appearing there each Tuesday, so keep your mouse poised and ready if you like what you see.

We now return to your regularly schedule program…dumpster find of the week: pretty box turned shoe corral.

I can’t remember who found them, but one day somebody came home with about a dozen of these wooden boxes. Something about the little metal handle on the end of each made me fall for them immediately. Each had a thin sheet of cardboard-y wood that slid in and out on small tracks as a lid, and some had a small metal square meant for inserting a small label.

I had initially planned to turn them into shelves, but decided that they were too heavy to screw onto the wall. Instead one became a shoe corral, and several others were sent to sit in the corner of my shed until further inspiration struck. As inspiration has yet to strike on this point, I’m turning to you, my inventive readers, to ask what should I do with the two in the shed?



while we’re on the subject of bottles: philadelphia’s magic gardens

When the Beard and I were in America last fall, we spent a couple of days stuck in Philadelphia. Saved from ruin by the kindness of an old high school buddy, we had a place to stay, and a few days to fill with city wandering. Those wanderings inevitably brought us to South Street, which then brought us to the Magic Gardens.

Though I’ll admit that most of the time I’ve spent in Philly has involved racing wheely chairs up and down university hallways while waiting for my dad to finish teaching—that is to say, I haven’t gotten out much—I would give the Magic Gardens the prestigious title of Nikki’s Number One All Time Favorite Tourist Spot in the Whole City. Despite my lack of gorilla experience in the city, having been brouht there on numerous class field trips throughout my school years, I can say with certainty that the Magic Gardens are a thousand times more interesting than the Betsy Ross House and the crack in the Liberty Bell.

You see, the Magic Gardens aren’t actually gardens at all, but a sculptural experience the size of the (once) empty house lot on which they were built by artist Isaiah Zagar. Let me tell you, this man knows how to make a dazzling mural. He also knows how to build walls out of old bottles, bike tires, and other shiny miscellanea. Really, words can only sum it up as such: the place is fucking insane. And amazing. The kind of place where you could spend days just staring at the walls.

On the side of a completely normal looking street, you find this:

Peering through the metal gate, you get a glimpse of the labyrinthine madness that awaits you inside:

I was happy to pay the five dollar admission fee. Did you ever see the movie Nothing But Trouble with John Candy and Chevi Chase and Demi Moore? Well, this is like the set of that movie, but friendly. And tell you what, the set of that movie is about the only reason it’s worth watching, but it is such a good reason that I actually own a copy. But I digress.

The story of the Magic Gardens goes something like this: “Zagar started working on the Magic Gardens in 1994 in the vacant lot nearby his studio. He began by constructing a massive fence to protect the area from harm and then spent the next fourteen years excavating tunnels and grottos, sculpting multi-layered walls, and tiling and grouting the 3,000 square foot space.”

In 2002 the owner of said not-so-vacant-anymore lot noticed that property values on South Street were rising and decided to sell. And in one of those touching “and then the neighborhood came together and won out in the face of real estate speculation” stories, the folks who appreciated Zagar’s work did just that and became a non-profit organization so that anyone who wanted to could come by and give Zagar’s work a good thorough ogle.

Below is a view from inside the lot looking back out onto the normal buildings across the street.

Into the labyrinth…

Down the stairs to the grotto and through one of the little tunnels…

This is recycling for the kind of apocalypse I would very much like to be a part of. Maybe someday I’ll have a little piece of wooded land on which I, too, can build creepy trash-n-bottle labyrinths into which I can send all my writer’s block to shrivel and perish.

Friday March 04th 2011, 7:30 am 8 Comments
Filed under: america,conspiracies,recycling for the apocalypse


recycling for the apocalypse: the bottle fence

My first thought when I saw this photo could be visualized in the form of a very large black exclamation point. Then, returning to the English language, I thought: well, shit, why didn’t I think of that?

The picture arrived in an e-mail from blogger Nim of Nimcraft: Geekcrafting and Ueberdorking, who said: “This is nothing new to the world, but I pounded bottles into the ground to form flowerbed-esque borders and also to line walkways.” New or not, I was impressed, and rushed off to Click Clack Gorilla in my recycling for the apocalypse superhero cape to share the idea with you.

I asked Nim to tell me more about the process of collecting the bottles and putting them in the ground. “It took about a summer to collect the bottles,” Nim said, “But I got a whole army of drunkards to help.”

“I started out saving beer bottles, but here in the States they make them way too flimsy (in the 6-pack sizes. Once you get up to larger sizes, the glass gets thicker, like wine bottles). That plus the hard ground made for a lot of broken shards I had to dig out with a spade. I switched to wine and liquor bottles only (and softer ground) and it made all the difference in the world.”

“Around my tree I think it took about two dozen wine bottles, if memory serves. The ring is about two meters in diameter. However, the bottles are spaced with rocks, since many a root came into my way. I put the rocks in the spaces the roots caused and called it done.

“A word of caution: if your soil is baked and hard (I live in Texas), wait for a rain or give the ground a good soak before proceeding. I used a rubber mallet to hammer the bottles in, but watch out for pinching the skin of your bottle-holding hand under the hammer. Free tips, those!”

This idea couldn’t have landed on my doorstep at a better time. The same morning that I heard from Nim, I had been gazing out my window at the patch of ground that will become my garden come spring, and wondering if I would be able to find enough bricks laying around to make a little mini fence around the beds. Looks like it’s time to start collecting bottles and soaking off labels.

Have any of you tried this before?

Monday February 28th 2011, 7:20 am 6 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,diy,freegan,recycling for the apocalypse


recycling for the apocalypse: bike wheel chandelier

This is sort of weird and personal, but here goes: it gives me a rush to see commercial bric-a-brac in a down and dirty survival context. For example, when I see cardboard shacks in the Mexican colonias, I always feel a little rush when I see the word “Pringles,” or “THIS SIDE UP,” or “IBM.” It’s so…post apocalyptic. So that shelving unit in the chicken coop always gave me a small charge, and I get a rush from burning wooden crates with produce trademarks stamped on the ends.

You see, commercial products are constantly hyped, creating little “recognition centers” in our heads. So, when you walk down a busy street or store aisle familiar products seem to leap out at you screaming “Buy me!” But seeing the product in a ‘no bull’ context is like mental anti-toxin. You see the product leap out at you and think, “Our hogs like that!” You begin to feel layer upon layer of artificiality stripped away as you peer into dumpsters and use what you find.

-John Hoffman, “The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving”

Crazy guerrilla capitalist that he is, I have to give it to John Hoffman on this one. I, too, like to see objects re-used in bizarre ways, love the “we’re living amongst the ruins” aesthetic of building with “trash.” And so today I present to you the bike wheel chandelier that graces one of our Wagenplatz kitchens.

For those of you who find this hideous (and I can’t say I would have built it with quite the same trappings myself), just remember the basic principle behind building something like this is super easy, infinitely flexible, and completely free.



recycling for the apocalypse: sheds

The identity of an object is malleable.  When we throw an item away because it has outlived it’s function, we are often sending resources to an early death out of a lack of creativity—or sometimes because of a lack of space in which we can store old objects for the time when the form of their reincarnation becomes clear. Old clothing that could have been remade or used to patch other worn clothing, a table top that could become a wall (or firewood), or tins that you screw to the ceiling to protect it from the heat of the candles you use to light the room are just a few examples.

If you don’t have a big shed to store all the bits of furniture and building supplies you find in the trash, you’re not going to have them when you wake up one morning and realize you’d like to build a house/chicken coop/shed on a budget of nothing.  In this light hoarding isn’t always a negative character trait (have you seen that show?  jeebus).  In this light decluttering isn’t always the road to “living simply.”  But those are subjects for another day, one that includes many, many more words than I care to type right now.  Today I just want to ogle some sheds.

I heart sheds.  I heart sheds because I’m a hoarder.  And I’m a hoarder because I forage (in the garbage, in the woods, etc).  When you forage (as opposed to purchasing things at your local chain store), stock piling to some extent is essential.  Whereas you can walk into the building supply store anytime and find exactly what you need, you usually can’t just walk outside and find all the (dry) firewood and food you need (especially during the winter), let alone the building supplies you’d like (or clothes, or kitchen gadgets, etc).  There’s nothing that doesn’t end up in the trash eventually, but it doesn’t always land there on your schedule.  So when you find lumber or antique glass door handles or a bag full of screws, you need to take them, and you need to have a place to store them until the right project (or a neighbor in need) comes along.  And that’s where a good shed comes in handy. That is not to say that I think it’s a good idea to buy a McMansion so you can save everything that crosses your path. But there is a time and a place for hoarding.

This first shed was built out of an ancient pick-up truck cap and some scrap wood.  For the longest time I thought that the roof was an old row boat, but when I went to photograph it for this post, I realized I had been mistaken.  But using an old boat as a shed roof is just as inspired, just as gorgeously apocalyptic.  (I am such a sucker for the apocalyptic aesthetic.)  There’s one laying next to our living room trailer.  If only I hadn’t already built Frankenshed.

When I moved my wagon to its current resting place, my first project was to build a set of sheds for my firewood.  As luck would have it, several days before we had hauled two trailer loads of old wooden crates (tossed by the university anthropology department—one still contained a strange-looking tooth) back from the university trash corral.  I took them apart, gathered some pallets together, and Frankenshed was born:


Frankenshed’s pretty behind. Hats off to the anthro department, who I hope didn’t toss these crates in favor of things made of plastic.


The left shed from the inside.

While I’m on the subject of sheds, take a look at a few of the other variations some of my neighbors have constructed:


The big bit of Styrofoam on the top of this wood shed was carved out of a dumpster find as a birthday present for one of my neighbors. Behold, the sausage recliner!


Note the blue shopping cart chariot in front of this close-walled number. An easy-to-move chair for summer sitting, complete with cup holder, room for a case of beer, and a sunbrella that’s currently hibernating inside.


Behind this tiny shed you can see one of our outdoor showers.


This construction uses a metal container (the office of a plumbing company) as its back wall.


A very simple wood storage construction made of a scavenged metal shelving unit and an old car hood.

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