Recovering our waste – and our humanity

Glenorchy’s Recovery Shop is an object lesson in how to deal with waste

Scott Fletcher’s Tip Goddess guards the Recovery Shop entrance.

Scott Fletcher’s Tip Goddess guards the Recovery Shop entrance.

Glenorchy, home of Mona, is doubly blessed. Before Mona there was the Tip Shop, or as it’s now known, the Recovery Shop, which this year celebrated 25 years in business.

On the face of it these two institutions have little in common. Unlike Mona, the Recovery Shop would be unfamiliar to most art museum aficionados. No premium waterfront location here; the Recovery Shop is to be found in the back blocks of Glenorchy, next door to the waste management centre. And far from a handsome award-winning structure, it is accommodated in stock-standard tin sheds.

But art doesn’t understand such things. Its many forms include street art, often a visual statement about politics and society. Informal street art is nearly always painted on a wall because that’s the quickest way to express yourself without getting caught.

In paying homage to the material we discard in our daily lives, the art of the Recovery Shop is also about politics and society. But its art, unlike the street version, is gloriously three-dimensional.

At the shop’s entrance is a steel seat with a mesh top and mesh balls on the end of stalks, enclosing bits of scrap plastic that sunlight has begun to break down into smaller pieces. It’s a sculpture by Ben Beames about the environmental hazard of discarded plastic, and yes, you can sit on it.

That’s just the start of a trail of artworks commissioned by the Recovery Shop’s directors, Brad Mashman, his partner Rena Dare and Brad’s son, Zac, beginning in 1996 with a simple assemblage of industrial piping, assorted car parts and a light shade by Steve Palmer.

In 2005 Daniella Maniero produced a “waste stream totem” of an owl and three fishes using plates, utensils, bicycle parts, coins, bottle caps, a vegetable steamer and chicken wire.

In 2013 Jon Williamson was commissioned to produce two works, “Good consumer choice flowers” using tools, a fence, electric motor parts and computer cooling fans, and “Serendipity Complex”, made from discarded PVC pipes.

Five more sculptures by Scott Fletcher were added in 2014 – all animal and human forms re-using auto parts, gauges, garden tools, a vacuum cleaner, a security camera, a street sign, an instrument casing, electrical and computer parts, a padlock, a beer keg and a garbage bin.

In 2016 Donna Ritchie created a monument to climate change called “The Tipping Point”, made from tiles, mirror glass, toys, white goods and a metal box, featuring melting glaciers and rising seas and carrying a message of hope: “This is not yet our fate”.

Then last year Maggie Butler added a new indoor piece, “Seeing things differently”, a tribute to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. She used fake grass, tableware, a table cloth and indoor furniture to create a dining setting on its side.

“The age of glorious nonsense” is a history of waste from pre-industrial times to the present, illustrated by six miniature sets made by Brad Mashman, who trained as an industrial designer. Viewers are urged to turn away from the throwaway culture to an enlightened re-use culture.

The artworks have become part of a program for schools visiting the Recovery Shop. At the end of each visit, students are asked to personally commit to work towards a sustainable future, embracing change while supporting community and caring for the natural environment.

Brad Mashman and Rena Dare have thought deeply about what it means to share this planet with other living beings and have invested hugely in doing something about it. In September, Mashman’s pioneering work in waste reduction was recognised with a Churchill Fellowship.

Mashman’s program involves a visit in the first half of next year to Europe, which leads the world in its innovative management of waste. There, he and Dare will investigate government, community and commercial waste reduction models in Sweden, Belgium, France and the UK.

Whatever they learn on their journey, they will take with them a certainty that humanity, with all its faults, foibles, creativity and potential, can resolve the global waste crisis.

As the Recovery Shop’s displays tell us, in ancient times there was no waste management problem. All materials used were biodegradable, returning to the earth as part of natural cycles.

Today we are daily being duped by economic modelling that excludes environmental costs while providing no future guarantees. Today’s unprecedented amount of waste is a crisis which none of us, least of all our leaders, wants to talk about. But talk about it we must.

The resilient, resourceful people at the Recovery Shop know what is needed for a comprehensive plan. But making it work requires their resourcefulness to be applied on a vastly bigger scale, and to address not just waste, but the commercial drivers that create the waste in the first place.

This will be a Churchill Fellowship worth watching. We just need governments able to listen and respond to its messages.

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