Cover Story continued


Recycle with style

These websites can be your guide to DIY sustainability

Things to do today: go shopping, get haircut, bifurcate tongue. What? You don’t know how to bifurcate your tongue? You’re in luck. The website [Instructables.com] recently posted a lesson (with photos) in using scissors to cut your tongue right down the middle.

Do you have a skill to share? A project you made? Do you want to know how to do pretty much anything? Wisdom is no longer a rite passed down from our elders in sepia-toned tradition–it’s passed around like joints at a hippie convention. When our brains need an upgrade, a download or a quick lesson in self mutilation, we seek out new friends and websites for the power to change the world by making it up from scratch. We’re vigilantes in the war on consumerism, and we’re not going to take it anymore.

‘Sustainability is the word hanging on everyone’s lips now, thanks to Al Gore,’ says Shoshana Berger, author of ReadyMade: How to Make (Almost) Everything. Berger is also the editor-in-chief of ReadyMade, ‘a bimonthly print magazine for people who like to make stuff.’

‘Our readership has spiked over the last several months,’ Berger says via e-mail, ‘and we expect the trend to continueÖ.Readymade is an atlas of suggestions, if, as we do, you take suggestions to be little bolts of energy sent down from the universe to trigger a salvo in your brain. We hope that the projects have a catalytic effect, inspiring you to rethink the purpose of an old telephone book or bicycle wheel.’

The magazine’s web version, [readymademag.com], offers projects and tips via links to other sites. Soon you won’t need a subscription to get your hands really dirty. ‘We’re about to upload our entire project archive for free,’ Berger says, ‘and other sites like [Instructables.com] [which] feature how-to photos make the process much less intimidating.’

[Instructables.com] is part entertainment, part practical guide, part truly bizarre website (sorry if we reminded you about that tongue thing). Started by the innovative thinkers at Squid Labs, an engineering design and technology organization, the site is easy and uncluttered. Type in a keyword for the kind of thing you want to learn to do and a new page of illustrated how-tos eventually loads. (Where’s the instructable on creating faster bandwidth?) ‘Clean,’ brings up pages of advice on not only what you really might want to learn like making your own laundry detergent, but also cleaning turtles, making bacon soap and getting rid of bees.

While searching for a weapon of mild destruction for attacking your wallpaper (we like the Totally Awesome Pencil Cannon), you might happen upon an idea that can not only save money, it can preserve precious space in a landfill by turning your trash into treasure. Learning the guitar? An illustrated instruction on making a guitar pick out of expired plastic cards is super simple. Your old driver’s license picture is a perfect thumb size for strumming. Why didn’t we think of that?

A bit of warning is in order: Browsing can become obsessive. Someone actually posted an instructable on breaking your addiction to the site. According to the user, [Instructable.com] is best ‘when you have nothing that you have to do for the next several hours, as it will suck you in.’ The post prompted 21 replies of commiseration.

Like Readymademag, [Makezine.com] is a web version of a printed magazine. Ads take up half the space and links are endless, but the site feels so massive with valid info you’ll be tempted to think again next time you’re headed to the store to buy more stuff. Makezine is a virtual DIY encyclopedia.

Don’t know where to start? Try a random search. We typed in ‘cats’ and found a lesson (and video) on making a mega hamster-type wheel that dispenses cat food while your kitty runs in place. Definitely info to file away for future reference. Come to think of it, a human version might just be the next million-dollar weight-loss plan. Miniscule amounts of food distributed after so many revolutions of the jogging wheel? Exercise and diet at the same time?

And the DIY hook is in. A valuable byproduct of the instructable learning process is that after browsing through the sites and seeing what regular people can do with regular things, the tendency is to start coming up with what you might have to offer the world. It’s a boost of good karma and self-affirmation when you realize how useful we are to each other. Showing someone how to write a letter, entertain a puppy or create a mobile stripper pole no longer seems like a thing to make you go ‘duh.’

‘Like the Slow Food movement, we believe in Slow Design,’ says Berger, ‘rediscovering how things are made and how everything is connected in the great cycle of production and waste. When you see how much energy it takes to create a single thing, you no longer see the logic in a culture of disposability.’

Instructables

[Instructables.com]

Makezine

[makezine.com]

ReadyMade

[readymademag.com]