One Man's Treasure...

There is magic in creating something useful from discarded objects
Jan 29, 2014 10:00 AM ET

The Daily Adventure: One Man's Treasure

Like me you very likely received a mail with “OMG, check this out!!,” and clicked a link to watch a YouTube video of a Paraguayan man who together with his garbage collector friend builds instruments from trash, and coaches youngsters who live along the trash heaps how to play these instruments.  

Check out the video here

The resulting Los Reciclados orchestra has been given the name Landfill Orchestra by the English press, and via a Kickstarter Campaign has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to tour. Ironically, the children have started receiving massive donations of “real” instruments. 

I can ruminate at length about the joys of bricolage, the construction of something from whatever happens to be at hand, and about the magic of creating something useful from discarded objects. There is also fascinating stuff to find on the internet about ‘functional fixedness,’ or our tendency to see objects only in terms of their typical use. Loosening this fixedness is an important part of being creative and opening up to crafting solutions by using objects and tools at hand. 

Expanding in this way will hopefully help us address the pressing issues that the Landfill Orchestra brings home - overconsumption, poverty and waste. This blog focuses on the latter.

We the people generate around one billion tons of garbage per year.  One billion tons is pretty much unfathomable.  In fact, most of us can’t even fathom what one ton is! For perspective, one billion ants weigh 3 tons, which is slightly less than the weight of a medium sized elephant.  So, if we are talking trash, we throw away the equivalent weight of 333 and 1/3 million elephants every year. Like I said, unfathomable. 

The World Bank recently informed us that the amount of waste we humans throw away is rising fast and probably won’t peak until this century is over. They estimate that by 2100 the growing urban population will be producing three times as much waste as it does today. How many tons is that, how many elephants does that equate to? And it is not just an environmental problem, it is also a fiscal one. The global cost of dealing with our trash problem is expected to rise from $205 billion per year right now, to $375 billion per year in 2025.

So what can we do?

Like with the global warming CO2 parts per million number, or the billions of pounds of trash per year figure, it is easy to think we have little individual impact, and that is true - unless we all take action, because it is cumulative effort that will save us in the long run. There are two things that we can focus on in terms of reducing our personal garbage that can have an important positive impact: recycling and composting.


Most of us reading this live in cities that have implemented recycling programs, but many of us don’t realize the importance of using them. With every box, can, bottle, container, and paper scrap you recycle you are saving trees, water, oil, energy, and landfill space. Every item you recycle saves us from having to start from scratch and our use of virgin material. Recycling an aluminum can, for example, could save up to 96% the amount of air and water pollution that it takes to produce the can from ore. 

Make a plan to be more diligent regarding recycling. Try to use your own containers when you go for coffee. Look into refilling containers that you use over and over, like detergents and washing supplies. And most of all, stop buying plastic water bottles! Get yourself a good glass bottle and refill it. You’ll save money, and help our oceans and landfills significantly. And really try to be more diligent about separating your trash and recycling everything that you possibly can.


Coincidentally, the world also wastes more than 1.5 billion tons of food every year. Food rotting in landfills creates methane as it decays, and methane just so happens to be 20 times more effective at trapping heat than the much more publicized CO2. Even though more than thirty percent of household wastes are compostable, most of these go to landfills. Composting can greatly reduce the volume of waste, reduce the amount of pollution created from landfills, and is also an inexpensive way of creating natural fertilizer for plants. Composting also creates soil, we need soil to grow the food we eat. The world’s arable land, plantable soil, has dramatically decreased since commercial farming and pesticides took off. We need to rebuild our soil. Monsanto is not doing it. You can. 

How much do you spend per year buying soil and compost for your plants? Look into how easy it is to compost at home.

If you don’t have a garden, bring your beautiful compost to your neighborhood trees and plants and watch them thrive. Composting does not have to be stinky or gross. Check out the links at the bottom to see how easy it is to get started.

The Landfill Orchestra has become a global meme, simply because people living in unfortunate circumstances made the most of their situation. Those of us living in the consumptive West have a responsibility to do a little more of that. We know very little hunger and very little want, so let’s do our part by trying to be more proactive about what we throw away. Make 2014 a year of less waste and more compost!

Links for further exploration:

10 things you can do for trash-free seas

Pinterest: Transform Your Trash

Compost: A simple textual explanation of how to get started

Wikihow: Make your own compost

Video: Making Compost in Bins or Piles


Written By:

Derek Fehmers