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Listen to this audio essay:




Recycling on South Street: Creative and Beneficial

By Philip Radomski, Amulya SHankar, Alex DeBerardinis, Heath Scholl


Walking down Philadelphia's vibrant and colorful South Street, examples of "green" living are abundant. Trash and recycling receptacles are conveniently located at intersections, a large Whole Foods Market gives locals easy access to organic food, and the community has embraced the "Unlitter Us" campaign to clean up Philadelphia. A key facet in the environmental movement is education, something a new green store on South Street (they recently celebrated the one year anniversary of arrival) clearly understands.


The Big Green Earth Store is a store that provides Philadelphians with a fresh outlook on how they can do their part. Only one year old, this store sells everything from reusable water bottles to solar-powered backpacks with the motto "You don't have to be a superhero to save the planet!" Larry DeShane, an employee of the Big Green Earth Store, points out that "Going green doesn't have to be costly and it doesn't have to be a huge change in your life." He urges people to do anything they can to be green. Every little thing helps, he reiterates, his dedication stemming from a belief to leave the world a better place then when he found it. Everything in the store is created from recycled materials and most is manufactured locally. One of the more eye-catching products they sell is a bag made out of old, used Capri-Sun pouches. A colorful, sturdy bag, this product is not only green, but practical and desirable.


A first time customer to the Big Green Earth Store, Tom Prather, talked about his family's recent inspiration to start living a more environmentally conscious lifestyle: "Having a baby, we realized that we want leave things better than we found it." Another customer came into the store and purchased a reusable water bottle and a composter. It was her fifth time visiting the store. If more people took the initiative to be green like the shoppers of the Big Green Earth Store, the world would be a much improved place. The Big Green Earth Store not only raises awareness, but helps people find practical ways to reduce their carbon footprint.


Walking out of the Big Green Earth Store with a bottle-cap necklace and a wallet made out of recycled dollar bills, you encounter a visual masterpiece only a block away. Philadelphia's Magic Gardens is an urban "garden" constructed from what most people would consider to be trash. Made from glass bottles, cement, shards of mirror, broken tiles and other miscellaneous objects, the immense mosaics designed by Isaiah Zagar took over fourteen years to create, and construction continues to this day. This use of trash and other items is yet another way of recycling or reusing materials to prevent them from ending up in the dump.


Although the Magic Gardens are focused on art and beauty, the concept of being green is definitely related. "I'd say that the eco-friendly lifestyle sort of fits the idea of empowering people to feel like artists with the things around them," commented director Ellen Owens. According to Owens, most of the trash that was constructed to form the Magic Gardens was donated by members of the community. Isaiah would go to work everyday only to find old plates or empty bottles stacked in front of his building. Instead of recycling through the city of Philadelphia, people gave their bottles and cans to Isaiah who recycled them in his own unique way. Currently, the garden is run by a nonprofit organization dedicated to showing that art can be created out of anything, even junk, with just a little creativity and vision.


These locations on South Street illustrate two unique ways of being "green." The Big Green Earth Store finds practical ways to reuse materials while Philadelphia's Magic Gardens displays art in a creative way that reuses items. In both instances, items that would be found in a landfill are being turned into something useful or beautiful. Like DeShane wisely says, "if you can reduce and reuse before you recycle, you can make a greater impact on the earth."