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Art for Earth's Sake

Program steers materials away from landfills and into DIY projects.



Ever wonder what happens to those tiny fabric swatches and tile samples at design stores when they're no longer needed? This Saturday, ZeroLandfill Memphis lets you have a say, as it gives away tons of expired materials and samples from area design and architecture firms.

Based on a nationwide program started six years ago in Ohio, ZeroLandfill Memphis diverts materials from dumpsites by inviting Memphians to take and reuse fabric samples, tiles, carpet squares, paint chips, and even computers and furniture.

Volunteers collect the materials from local firms, weigh the items to keep track of how many tons of materials are being upcycled (that's green-speak for "repurposed"), and then offer them for free to any interested crafters, teachers, artists, and creative types.

Last year, ZeroLandfill Nashville diverted 16 tons of materials from being dumped into landfills; this year, the national program plans to hit the 1 million mark for pounds of materials diverted. This is the first year Memphis has held a ZeroLandfill event.

"A lot of firms are jumping at the chance to get rid of things," said Melissa Pope, committee chair for ZeroLandfill Memphis. "So often these materials just go into the trash, and a lot of them are engineered materials that will never decompose. They will never go away unless somebody does something with them."

The model for the program, known as the "bee dance," is inspired by the behavior of the honeybee. Pollination is the collection of the materials from design firms; cultivation is the preparation of the materials and weigh-in; harvest is when community members pick up the materials for upcycling; and celebration is the final tally of materials diverted and an exhibition of the different upcycling projects that were born out of the program.

"In one project someone made a sofa out of carpet samples," Pope said. "The possibilities are endless. To have someone who doesn't use these materials on a daily basis and see what they come up with is even better. We [designers] see the material, and we know what it's used for and get stuck in that box. To have somebody think outside the box and use it for something completely different is really inspiring."

The event will end with a photo contest on the ZeroLandfill Memphis Facebook page, where fans can vote on their favorite upcycled projects.

Pope says they've gotten a great response from local artists and teachers interested in free materials for class art projects. Volunteers who help collect and sort materials on April 19th and 20th get first dibs on items. Volunteers may sign up by emailing The public free-for-all takes place at Memphis Business Interiors (4539 West Distriplex Drive) from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 21st, and Saturday, April 28th.

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