The Art of Recycling
Claire Gregowicz March 18, 2021
If you are a child of the 80’s, like myself, you know the 3Rs: Recycle, Reduce, Reuse (and the theme song to Captain Planet) by heart. You also probably do your best to recycle like the 94% of Americans that support recycling efforts.
For Global Recycling Day 2021, I caught up with my dear friend and the first person I thought of when I read the mission, as set out by the Global Recycling Foundation.
“To tell world leaders that recycling is simply too important not to be a global issue, and that a common, joined up approach to recycling is urgently needed.”
“To ask people across the planet to think resources, not waste, when it comes to the goods around us – until this happens, we simply won’t award recycled goods the true value and repurpose they deserve.”
“Non-profits, volunteering, litter and solid waste reduction are my jam! So, when Coin Up App reached out for my thoughts on World Recycling Day I was happy to share some of what I’ve learned!”
Now I introduce you to HR Johnson, an expert in reworking resources and creating value in the discarded things around her.
Hi! I’m HR Johnson. I currently reside in Summerville, SC with my husband, son, and three rescue cats. I’m an artist and an activist or as I like to call myself, an artivist. Art is much like science, both have a hand in all we experience. I believe that through Artivism and heARTwork, views are renewed.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to volunteer with many wonderful organizations. I believe we can learn so much when we volunteer. We can learn about ourselves, other people and our community. For several years, I chaired the beautification committee for our town and we focused on litter clean up. I started my town’s first Earth Day festival.
Q: How did you come to want to make art from recycled things?
A: Aristotle is quoted as saying, “Where your talent and the needs of the world cross, therein lies your vocation.” A soda bottle out of a ditch can become a flower. A hot dog container can get a second life as a piece of jewelry. Nothing is trash; no thing or being has finished becoming. There is beauty and potential in all.
I see recycled arts as a way to spread awareness about litter & waste reduction. I also see it as a way for people to heal. To see so many possibilities for a discarded piece of ‘trash’ can help people who have felt discarded to see their own possibilities.
Q: When did you start Renewed Views? And What has the reception been from people that see these works?
A: I started Renewed Views in May of 2017 but I had been making cool stuff from discarded things for a few years before that. There are two main reactions to my creations. For things like soda bottle flower bouquets, people are generally a bit taken aback by what the thing used to be and what it’s become. For larger installations, such as our local Scarecrows/Christmas on the Square events, it’s a bit different. A local service group organizes the event and all funds are donated to our local schools!
I was lucky enough to work around the square where these events are held.
First as the Administrative Director for a performing arts theater and later as a painting teacher. For several years I was able to watch as people walked through taking in the scarecrows or Christmas trees. It gave me great joy to see people walking briskly through the displays and then stop when they reached my creation. People would pause and look thoughtful. I’ve seen many conversions spurred about recycling, litter, and the arts through these large recycled sculptures.
Q: Why do you feel it is important to bring awareness to recycling and clean up efforts?
A: Regarding recycling, I feel like a lot of people tend not to think much about what happens to their trash or just how much trash one person generates. According to the EPA, Americans produce approximately 5.91 pounds of trash daily but we only recycle approximately 1.51 pounds of trash per person, per day. It’s been estimated that over a lifetime each American will produce 102 tons of trash! I think it’s super important to stop letting the majority of our resources go to waste when so much can be reused.
Litter is another harmful part of waste. On a societal level it saddens me to see just how much is built to be disposable and only used once. Litter harms wildlife. I’ve encountered birds’ nests made from plastic, small animals tangled in balloon strings, and sadly too many dead birds and other wildlife. Too many animals die from ingesting plastics carelessly tossed on the ground. Litter clogs drainage ditches so it also contributes to local flooding issues. Litter is a global issue. Generally, when we humans know better, we do better. So it’s important to talk about these problems.
On a side note: litter clean ups can be fun! You heard me, or rather read me!? Litter clean ups can feel a lot like archaeology because you never know what weird stuff you will come across. Litter clean up can also be a work out. Between the joy of helping your community, the endorphins from the physical activity, and the before and after photos, many volunteers leave a clean up feeling accomplished and encouraged.
Q: This sounds very personal. Would you share your personal story with us?
A: Woo… So for much of my life I felt a lot like a piece of trash. I was the outcast, poor kid. Just how poor? We had running water in the sinks but had to use a pail to flush the toilet or go outside to the literal outhouse. Once a week I would go to my grandmother’s to take a bath… Think of a decade long episode of Jerry Springer meets Hoarders. There was every type of abuse you can think of and eventually I was sent to foster care. So much from my early years stuck with me.
The family business was taking things others had discarded and repairing them for a summer long yard sale. Those funds would sustain us for the rest of the year. We would ride around in a pick up truck during fall/spring clean up weeks and rummage through people’s trash piles for anything we could salvage. I would be literally tossed into dumpsters behind stores to get sellable items. From a young age I saw up close and personal just how wasteful we are as a society with our fellow humans and our stuff.
-Thank you for that.
Q: Would you tell us some of the causes that are close to your heart and why?
A: So many! I support my local performance theater. I volunteer as part of my local Keep Dorchester County Beautiful Board of Directors. We’re planning a clean up for Earth Day next month. I’ve also supported the Foster Care Alumni of America.
I donate 15% of proceeds from my art to help those in need of renewed views. I focus on organizations that help current foster youth, foster care alumni, sexual &/or domestic violence survivors. Right now my 15% is going to I AM Voices or IAV. They are working to open a transitional home for young foster women and victims of domestic violence.
Q: What are your tips for someone who wants to be an everyday advocate but doesn’t have the time to do some of the things you do?
A: There are countless ways to get involved! A few things that come to mind:
- Follow recycling & litter pages online to learn from them and share their information and posts. Help amplify the most important messages.
- Make a small commitment. I started a challenge I call ‘10 Every Tuesday’. On Tuesday’s my son and I spend 10 minutes picking up trash on our own street. If you are a walker, consider taking a bag along with you.
- Simple swaps can save you money and reduce waste. Wool balls really do work just as well as dryer sheets. (You wouldn’t believe how many dryer sheets end up in ditches…)
- Remember the 3 R’s? Try to make small changes to incorporate those ideas more into your everyday life. AND… add two more: Refuse & Repair.
- Let your local nonprofits know about Coin Up! That annual scarecrows event I mentioned? People pay 25 cents per vote to choose their favorites. From those quarters, thousands are donated to our local schools. Coin Up recognizes that the smallest amounts can add up to big solutions.
Every little bit helps… will you?