Trash happens. It’s unwanted. It’s free or cheap. In many parts of the world, it’s growing faster than the sanitation departments. It’s left to people, with little to lose, to envision its possibilities. The results are astonishing. From doormats to drinking glasses, from purses to percussion, artisans think outside the box.

Entry costs are low – often a pair of pliers is the only tool required. Using scrap paper, cloth, plastic, wood and metal, artisans bend, roll, weave, saw and sculpt. Early experiments evolve into art forms, as artisans develop techniques and signature motifs.

Take telephone wire. South African basket makers were looking to overcome a shortage of palm fiber. They experimented with small scraps of telephone wire that technicians had saved. The first baskets were simple shapes in mottled colors. Ten years later, telephone wire basketry has become an art in its own right; the motifs and shapes are spectacular. (Regrettably, demand for telephone wire products has outpaceed supply. The telephone wire baskets became so popular that people started stripping South Africa’s communications infrastructure for access to the wire. Crossroads Trade now buys baskets made of new telephone wire so that we don’t contribute to the destruction.)

In other parts of the world, plastic bags get melted into thread. Gum wrappers are rolled into basket fiber. Fabric scraps are ground into paper pulp. Flip-flops evolve into elephants. Bicycle chains become dragons. Sawdust is sculpted into iguanas.

While it’s an economical craft, it can be unhealthy. Trash pickers may be exposed to disease or infection. Materials need to be sanitized. Melting glass or plastic requires safety equipment. Crossroads Trade buys its recycled products from suppliers who explicitly address these issues.

When you buy products from these pages, you are reducing the world's trash problem and enabling artisans to support their families through safe and fair employment.

Crossroads Trade wants your feedback and ideas. Your purchase will make a substantial difference in the life of an artisan. Please contact phone at 617-975-2001 or by email if you would like to see more examples, have any questions, or would like more information.

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