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December 16th, 2009 Kate Williams | Q & A
 

Roberto Casanueva

City Repair organizer talks dumpster diving.

     
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TRASH MAN: City Repair’s Roberto Casanueva in his natural habitat, a Dumpster.
IMAGE: vivianjohnson.com

It’s mid-December. Holiday planning and shopping usually take top priority. For City Repair’s ReWare organizer Roberto Casanueva, however, all of this shopping is completely absurd. He, along with volunteers for the nonprofit, have come together to organize a series of super cheap shopping events called Upcycle Markets, celebrating both creativity and thrift. These markets bring together local crafters with those in the community who need or want to do something different with their trash, to create new belongings as diverse as recycled menstrual pads and bicycle-sprocket clocks.

As Casanueva explains, “It’s good to reuse, recycle and reduce, but it’s also good to upcycle—to take things that would normally be waste and turn them into something completely different than when [any item] was first created.” The next Upcycle market is scheduled for the Sunday after Christmas, so WW sat down with Casanueva to talk trash, craft and Dumpster diving.

WW: What’s the coolest project you’ve seen?

Roberto Casanueva: These menstrual pads blew me away. I don’t really have a connection to that in my life. I don’t really have a necessity for them. They’re called Moonpads, and they’re made out of recycled materials. You can wash them. There’s this [group called] Rejuiced Bike Concepts, and they make bike carts out of bike scraps—like fenders and sporks and other random parts. Also, there’s this person who makes clocks out of bicycle sprockets.

You’ve mentioned bikes a lot. How much of ReWare is tied to the Portland bike scene?

Yeah, I would like it to be more widespread than that. But you might as well start with people who are already into it.... I think there could be a possibility in the future to have a skills-share bike-maintenance part of [ReWare].... ’Cause there’s not enough of those here. There are a lot of bike shops, but they’re not really the kind that invite you in to use the equipment and teach you how to fix your own bike. They’re more like, “Leave your bike here, we’ll fix it for you.”

They have one of those maintenance co-ops at Reed College.

That’s funny you bring up Reed, because that was actually one of the main instigators for this market to happen. Earlier this year, when everybody moved out of the dorms, they brought extra Dumpsters to campus. So we went [Dumpster diving] one night, and we got caught. We got treated like criminals and got kicked off. And then I called human resources and told them, “Hey, we’re working for a nonprofit and we want to have a fundraiser garage sale-type thing and divert all this waste.” She gave us permission, and we came back that night with a written form. And Dumpster diving’s fun when you take a group out and you’re dressed like ninjas and you go for it.

What would you like to see ReWare move toward in the future?

We’re packrats, especially in this country. There are big storage facilities and two-car garages filled with all this stuff that they don’t need, and they want to get rid of it. Thankfully there are places like the Goodwill. I’d really like to see ReWare get to the point where it’s like a donation center. One day a week, or maybe two days a month, at Sea Change gallery we could set up a table to take donations.

Would you say, then, that you would like ReWare to give back crafts to lower-income populations?

I think, in our intention, that’s kind of at the end; the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. But before we can even think that we can help them; we need to ask them what kind of help they need. City Repair’s goals happen with creating community, getting people to feel more connected to where they live. The first aspect of trying to help with that is bringing this truck [called the T-Horse] with wings to a park, setting up pillows and rugs underneath the wings, and serving free tea and dessert out of the back. Everyone is welcome. It’s free. Tea slows you down. It takes a little while. It’s hot. You can’t pound it and run off. People sit and they start having conversations. So, I would say, if we wanted to help the more impoverished community, we could go and set up the T-Horse and say, “Hey, what kind of skills do you guys need?” I think that’s one of the most important forms of any kind of activism—it’s not to think that you know what people need, but that you gotta ask.


GO: City Repair’s Upcycle Market takes place at SEA Change Gallery, 625 NW Everett St., No. 110. Noon-6 pm Sunday, Dec. 27. Free entry. More info at cityrepair.org.
 
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