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Waste Not, Want Not 

Festival showcases benefits of recycling

Laird Lanier first got into what he calls "junk art" when he visited a buddy's farm in Salisbury and started welding together old scrap metal and discarded farm equipment. Today, Lanier specializes in kinetic sculptures and animal mobiles, such as "Camille," a life-size giraffe he made from steel, copper and aluminum that's on display at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC. Some of his other pieces, including a tractor and what can best be described as alien beetles, will be displayed at Green Village: A Festival of Recycling and Conservation, on Oct. 8.

Lanier is one of 10 artists who will show their work at the festival, which runs from 9am to 2pm at the McDowell Nature Center. All of the artists use recycled materials in their works. In addition to the gallery of art, the Green Village will have numerous vendors on hand to show folks how to reduce, reuse and recycle waste products. One such vendor will demonstrate how you can mail old greeting cards to direct marketing associations and get your name removed from those cursed junk mail lists.

Environmentalists and the granola coalition have been beating the "must recycle" drum for many years, but the message apparently hasn't gotten through. Just last year, Charlotteans threw away about 290 tons of garbage and recycled only some 33 tons. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about 75 percent of what Americans throw in the trash could be recycled. That kind of wastefulness, not just in Charlotte but all across the nation, has a negative impact on everything from the job market and the economy to our air quality.

D. Ann Gill, of Mecklenburg County Solid Waste Reduction hopes the Green Village festival will encourage people to pay attention and actually do something about all the garbage. "While Charlotte has come a long way in terms of waste reduction, there's still lots of room for improvement," she said.

The folks scheduled to appear at the festival are doing something about it in their art. Eric Wilson, who helps install and oversee exhibits at the Afro-American Cultural Center, will show the picture frames he makes using tree limbs and discarded pallet boards. "I treat framing as an art form, not just a trade," said Wilson. "I do that through the use of color and different designs and shapes."

Teresa Hernandez and her husband Luis Ramirez opened the Pura Vida Worldly Art gallery on Central Avenue earlier this year. The two have devoted one section of Pura Vida (a popular Costa Rican expression that translates as "pure life") to art made from recycled materials, including soda-can belts, safety-pin bracelets, bottle-cap earrings and old cans fashioned into Christmas ornaments. All of this will be on display at the festival.

"This kind of art is very popular in Latin America and other places, like Africa, where artists can't just go and buy new materials," said Hernandez. "They have to use whatever they have. It inspires people. It shows you can make art from anything."

You can make jobs from garbage, too. "When you dispose of something at the landfill, you're creating six jobs," said Gill. "But for every item you recycle, you help create 36 jobs, which includes the curbside collectors, processors, manufacturers, the infrastructure people who educate the public, and then the retailers who sell it again."

And what does tossing something -- say a beer can -- have to do with air pollution? According to Gill, when you recycle a beer can, you're taking a resource that's already purified and making it into something new, instead of having manufacturers make new items from scratch, which is a big source of air pollution.

At the core of America's overflowing waste problem is the country's consumer-driven culture and insatiable buying habits, said Gill. And Charlotte, which is quickly becoming the mall capital of the South, certainly qualifies as a consumer's wasteland. "We're brainwashed by advertisers to purchase things, to be good little consumers and help our economy," Gill said. "The flip side to that is we buy so much over-packaged stuff that we don't need. Hopefully the festival will help steer us in the right direction."

Green Village: A Festival of Recycling and Conservation takes place Saturday, Oct. 8, from 9am to 2pm. The event will be at the McDowell Nature Center, 15222 York Rd. (Highway 49) near Lake Wylie.

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