Selling Recycling: Making Waste Diversion Sexy

by Christina Dawn Morgan

December 17, 2014


Single Stream. The colorful diversity of recyclable goods accepted at the E. L. Harvey & Sons, Inc. recycling center in West Borough, MA.

Weve all seen them. From TV commercials and ads in magazines to roadside billboards and posters in metro trains and buses, advertisements are everywhere. Why? Well, they particularly their striking imagery can sell us just about anything, from the most transient to the most timeless of products. But, what about earth-friendly practices like recycling? Can advertisements be used to inspire people to recycle and inform them about best-practices along the way?

Well, here at Greenpeace, weve met one woman, Ellen Callaway of Callaway Photo, who is using her skills as a food and product photographer to do just this. Shes created an advertising campaign called Recycled Beauty thats designed to build knowledge and passion around recycling. Her photos (to follow) are beautiful and informative and also promote recyclables as valuable raw materials in the economy. Here’s her story.

How did you start photographing recyclables?

Well, for starters, Ive been passionate about the environment for as long as I can remember. In fact, when I began college at a non-recycling institution, I sent my mom home with bags of recyclables like smelly milk jugs and crusty yogurt containers whenever she visited. So, I recycled and built my awareness about best practices throughout my education and early travels as a photographer, but really began to dive into the topic when I opened my own photo studio in Arlington, MA. From that steady location, I began to look-into the specific recycling rules and regulations of that area. I wanted answers to the pressing recycling questions that Id held for years, such as What if food is left in the recyclables? and What if an item is made of mixed materials? So, I started volunteering with the Arlington Recycling Committee to find out.

Illustration of recyclable material in pizza boxes

Yes/No Pizza. This illustration shows how most recycling centers treat food containers like pizza boxes. Only the non-saucy side can be recycled.

Paper Cups Are Not Just Paper

Paper Cups. Many paper cups are not just paper having some sort of lining within them, such as plastic. Many facilities wont recycle paper cups for this reason, so you should check-into your local recycling center(s) as to whether they can recycle mixed materials like these.

In turn, Ive answered these questions and more about how recycling works for various materials, observed the challenges that my town faces in diverting trash and in communicating guidelines to the public.

In time, I saw the connection between my trash reduction research and passion for descriptive photos to tell a story. Here, I had an opportunity to make visual connections between the wastes that we humans generate and how we can reduce and reuse them, give them new life through processes that are way more beautiful and exciting to take-on than a generic stock photo might portray.


Recycle Reduce Reuse

Chasing Arrows. Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot… Have F-U-N.

So, the images in Recycled Beauty are informative and capture these valuable wastes as I would an intriguing product to be sold in the marketplace transforming the eyesore of trash into an attractive, valuable raw material with endless potential.

What is your goal with this work? Whos your audience?

I ultimately hope that these Recycled Beauty photos are used to educate the public about the importance of recycling and how to do it correctly in a clear and inspiring way. Meanwhile, Im working with entrepreneurs and leaders in the recycling community to build knowledge and excitement around recyclables as raw materials earthy friendly and good for business.

Gently rinse cans and aluminum foils, pie pans before recycling. Materials with food  residues can not be accepted.

Gently Rinsed. Be sure to gently rinse food containers and aluminum foil before tossing them into the recycling bin. (Ellens photo provides knowledge of recyclable materials and their recycling instructions in one glance.)

Mailer made of fully recycled materials.

Green Mailer. A mailing envelope made entirely from recycled materials advertising the companys earth-friendliness and, truly, forest-friendly.

Any closing words for our readers?

Whichever way you look at it, the photos in the Recycled Beauty project are of discarded materials that are produced by the whole of our society. Economists and environmentalists, Republicans and Democrats, children and the elderly all of us are consuming goods and creating this waste. Due to the raw materials in waste, I want people to view waste as an opportunity, not a problem. These images show all of us, across professions, identities, and potential biases, how to honor the waste that we produce – admire it aesthetically and reuse it intelligently in creative solutions for production and conservation. So, I hope that these photos inspire you and help your journey as a recycler, too!

Pro-Tips from Ellen Callaway and Greenpeace on recycling beautifully where you are:

(1) Each item photographed by Ellen was investigated for its recyclability (composition), how it has to be received by recycling plants in order to be successfully repurposed, and how the recycling processes work for that material. One great tip on recycling beautifully is to get informed about recycling programs where you are. Just type recycling in (your city or region) into Google and read-up! Who knows maybe your local recycling center willeven let you volunteer with them. (That’s how Ellen got started!)

(2) For thorough information about the importance of recyclingand how to get it done, check outGreenpeace Africa report on The ABC of Recycling.It’s a great way to learn the ropes and become a planet-saving super start.

(3)Wondering where you can recycle… anything? Use Earth911.comsRecycling Center Quick Search Toolto find out where (you name it) can be recycled near you.

(4) Learn about theEconomic Benefits of Recycling. The info that you find may fuel your own recycling fire and can certainly create conversational footholds for you when trying to encourage others to recycle, as well.

(5) Some materials, like Styrofoam are difficult to find facilities for. Use tips 1 & 3 to see if theres capacities for the materials in your life, and if you cant recycle something, then check-out tips for re-using or reducing waste in other ways. (Heres to a Zero Waste Future!)

Styrofoam containers like these can be difficult to recycle, but it's not impossible! Research where egg cartons, take-out containers can be recycled near you.

Styrofoam. Tough to recycle, these are some containers built of Styrofoam. Get informed about whether your local recycling facility can recycle Styrofoam.

About Ellen Callaway:

Ellen Callaway of Callaway Photo

Ellen Callaway of Callaway Photo

Ellen Callaway is a food and product photographer based in Arlington, MA. Her dedication to the preservation of the environment, a cleaner Earth, and a more sustainable food chain directly influences her work and management of her photography studio, Callaway Photo. Ellen is on the Arlington Recycling Committee, and she is currently working on a photo project which seeks to highlight the everyday objects which can be recycled. To learn more about Ellen, Callaway Photo, and her work on photographing to sell recyclables, please visit her general website and Recycled Beauty pages.


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