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Recycling Rag, eco-artware's newsletter

Summer 2004

In This Issue:

A Can-Do House: A New Twist to Aluminum Siding

Got a few thousand soda and beer cans you've been waiting to recycle? Architect Richard Van Os Keuls, a resident of Silver Spring, Maryland, might be an inspiration.

Van Os Keuls lives in a 1953 brick tract house, to which he built a 230 sq. foot addition on to the back in 2000. The nearly-finished plywood and insulation board structure was covered with building paper, waiting to be sided or otherwise finished. He found bricks too expensive, and didn't want the usual siding alternatives. After some thought and consideration, Van Os Keuls decided to try a new medium no architect and none of his clients had used before -- flattened aluminum soda and beer cans.

This Maryland house uses aluminum cases for shingling

Years before, he had seen a truck run over a discarded soda can and suspected it would make a wonderful aluminum shingle, and he began stashing a few discarded cans away to explore this notion later. When Van Os Keuls finally decided to side his addition, his goal wasn't to be "artsy" or make a "green" statement -- he simply wanted an inexpensive way to cover the side of his house.

Close up of shingling He soon discovered that readying and applying thousands of cans is a labor-intensive process. Van Os Keuls prepares the cans in small batches -- three to twelve at a time. Each can is washed to avoid attracting ants; then it is smashed, twice. Wearing heavy-soled construction boots, he first stomps each one with his feet and then further flattens it with a sledge hammer. Hammering rounds the corners so the cans can't cut anybody who leans up against the wall. Each can, secured with a long aluminum nail, overlaps the previous one. When a varied assortment of aluminum "shingles" is collected and processed, he puts up 30-40 at a time. He never puts up two cans of the same color together. Van Os Keuls estimates the project will take 22,000 cans, and as of April, 2004, he is almost done with only 2000 cans to go.

At first he was going to put all the cans up and then paint them. However, Van Os Keuls found that he liked liked the play of sunlight on the colors. Because he likes lots of color, he began collecting beer, juice and soda cans from other countries and began buying cases of soda for the color of the can: Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda (chartreuse cans) and cheap grape soda, for example. "I have never bought something and thrown out the content," he said.

Maryland doesn't have a deposit-return on cans like some states, so cans find their way into recycling bins and then into county dump recycling facilities. Van Os Keuls first tried to collect soda cans by getting them from the local neighborhood dump, but was cited twice and fined for theft of city property and for transporting stolen property. So now, he has to count on donations, finding cans that don't make it into people's bins, and buying brands and flavors whose colors he likes.

As he goes along, Van Os Keuls learns more about his "shingles" -- they are not noisy when it rains. He knows that over time, aluminum generally attracts a chalky oxidation, but this hasn't appeared in the three years since the project started -- the printer's ink on the aluminum is slowing down the process. However, Van Os Keuls suspects the colors on his house will look more muted in five years.

Tin cans cover this planter to compliment the tin can house

Van Os Keuls' home may be one-of-a-kind for a while. While currently three of his clients are "mildly interested" in the technique, he does not plan to use it commercially until can-washing and -flattening becomes mechanized. He has made some preliminary experiments to accomplish this but the new system requires more work and time.

For further information, contact Richard Van Os Keuls by mail: 1507 Gridley Lane; Silver Spring, Maryland 20902

Eco-friendly Packaging

Packaging used for shipping accounts for nearly 30 percent of all solid waste, by weight. Here at Eco-Artware.com, we are aware and we try to beat the norm: we intentionally use USPS boxes (high amounts of recycled content), FedEx boxes (60% recycled material) and standard boxes and packing peanuts discarded by neighbors and neighboring small heath food and gift stores whenever possible. (Local stores now phone us when there is a really large stash and neighbors leave bags of packing materials outside my door--they don't like to add to the waste stream either.) And we've now added real cellophane bags to our list of "must haves."

Cellophane bags Cellophane is the oldest transparent packaging product. Now generally replaced in most instances by plastic, true cellophane is made from cellulose, and is 100 percent biodegradable and decomposes faster than leaves. A plastic look-alike came along in the 1960s which the industry called cellophane, but unfortunately this plastic replacement is derived from petroleum and does not break down in the soil. How can you tell the difference? Try a match test: plastic melts while cellophane burns and turns to ash.

These days, it's hard to find true cellophane. Luckily, we discovered Pak-Sel, Inc. (http://www.pak-sel.com) a company that has produced it for 15 years and has no plans of slowing down. We use ours to package paper vases but anyone could easily use them to bag candies, baked goods, nuts, dried fruits, handmade greeting cards, Christmas ornaments and gifts. Reasonably priced, a minimum order consists of 250 bags which are are made with and without gussets. Ready to go bags are available from 2-3/4"x 4--1/4" through 11-3/4" x 19-3/4". They also make custom size bags at competitive prices.

The Freecycle Network

Got a couch you don't need any more? Need an end-table, a planter, or a bicycle wheel? Check out The Freecycle Network, a non-profit inspired network of regional email listservs where people can post items they want to get rid of and find items they need. The only catch: everything must be free. Freecycle listservs are now available throughout the US and many parts of the world. If you don't have one in your area, why not start one?

The Freecycle network was first organized by "Downtown Don't Waste It," a nonprofit recycling organization in Tucson, Arizona, where the first Freecycle listserv was started in spring, 2003. You can find out more about your local groups or how to start a group by visiting http://www.freecycle.org. Yahoo! Groups alone hosts more than 400 regional Freecycle lists in the USA; just go to http://groups.yahoo.com and do a search on your town or region name and Freecycle, and you just might find (or get rid of) what you need. There are 63 Freecycle groups in 17 countries outside of the U.S., too. To locate one, go to http://www.freecycle.org and click on International.

Makeovers for Odds and Ends

I love the challenge of a composing a dish with what's on hand in the kitchen -- including last night's carryout leftovers. Each random combination is a different adventure. I always hope to blend them into an interesting mixture that will become a standard -- like a meal of peanut butter slathered on toast with a stewed tomatoes concoction that my family learned about and used on low energy Sunday evenings. Take the legend behind creation of the standard key lime pie: An elderly Key West conch (native), who had moved there during the 1940s, told me someone invented it after a hurricane when no groceries were open and there wasn't much left in anybody's cupboard. Inspired, someone took graham crackers, shortening, condensed milk and key limes scattered all over the streets to compose a now ubiquitous dessert known by its variations.

The Use-It-Up Cookbook by Catherine Kitcho, a former caterer, is designed to be a friend for cooks trying to think outside the box. It is organized alphabetically, by ingredient (from Applesauce to Wine with Bananas, Jam, Olives, Tomato Paste and other staples inbetween), and offers five recipes for each ingredient just to get you started. Got half a can of olives or a quarter jar of crystallized honey? See what the Use-It-Up Cookbook suggests. The book encourages readers to develop their own recipes and provides space for handwritten notes. Vegetarians and vegans will have to adapt several recipes which contain meat, chicken and milk products.

If you want to use up a few extra raisins, here is one of their suggestions:

Exotic Pilaf
1 c. brown rice
2-1/2 c. water
1/2 c. pine nuts
1 tb. olive oil
1/4 c. chopped onion
1/4 c. raisins
2 Tb. water
3 Tb chopped fresh mint leaves

Use It Up Cookbook
The Use-It-Up Cookbook
by Catherine Kitcho

In a medium saucepan cook the brown rice in the water over medium heat until done, about 40 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir, and keep warm.

On a baking sheet toast the pine nuts in a 350 degree oven for 8 minutes, set aside. In a large skillet heat the olive oil and brown the onion until golden. Add the raisins, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the brown rice to the pan, and stir to distribute the onions and raisins. Add 2 tablespoons water to prevent the rice from sticking to the pan. When the rice is heated through, stir in the mint and pine nuts, and then serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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