The PI Project: Two Jewish Roommates in the Deep South

Welcome to the first in a series of posts from Paige and Isaac, two young Jewish roommates down South

Upcycling: to recycle something in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item.

In the past few months, our hometown of Jackson, Mississippi sadly ceased the city’s free door-to-door recycling program. Due to the expensive nature of the recycling industry, the city did not have the financial means to keep up recycling for all of its residents. Beyond that, Jackson had experienced major contamination issues in the processing of recycled materials. As a result, nothing was actually being recycled. The city ultimately came to a consensus that it was not feasible to send trucks out to every home anymore.

So now, as Jackson residents and as roommates, we had a choice to make: Stop recycling altogether, or pay for a small private service.

As Jews, we grew up learning about the Jewish values of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, and Shmirat Ha-adamah, caring for the earth. These values struck home as we realized our situation and thought about how we could continue to do our part to take care of our world. We both wanted to do something, but we weren’t sure what.

Isaac felt a critical necessity to continue recycling by hanging onto any discards and paying for a private pick-up service.

Paige, on the other hand, grew up recycling all her life but was not keen on the idea of paying for the privilege of recycling.

But then Isaac discovered a solution! Once a month, the local private recycling business, Environmentality, hosts pop-up events to collect any recycling for a small fee—which costs less than regularly-scheduled residential pickup. We decided to collect recycling for these events, which meant storing large quantities of recycled goods until drop-off time. That way, we could continue to practice our Jewish values and take care of the world around us.

However, this created an issue: a major excess of recycled materials at the apartment in between monthly pop-up events.

You could call it a blessing and a curse, but our apartment has lots of wall space. Isaac arrived in Jackson with some cherished posters to put up, but not nearly enough. Paige came in with furniture, supplies, and more, but showed up empty handed for the wall. There had to be a way to make the apartment a communal space, where we could both feel represented on the wall. Ideas included wall art of sunsets and cool visuals of the world, but our fellow Fellows Josh and Carrie planted an ingenious seed. Apartment-mates like ourselves, they collaborated on their own a masterpiece for their wall using paints and a sheet!

Cue the aha moment! We could solve two problems in one solution: upcycle our pile of recycling by combining cardboards to create a personalized wall mount.

Now, due to the nature of our job, we tend not to see each other a whole lot. We travel quite a bit, and have contrasting schedules during the week. When we finally had time to actually make the piece, we learned all sorts of things about each other. Our artistic approaches, our favorite designs, and from the cardboard we had available, even our respective eating habits. Isaac is a superfan of blueberry crisp Clif bars and Paige receives a whole lot of packages from Amazon. This project therefore gave us an important opportunity to learn about each other and bond as roommates.

So how did we actually put the project together? A piece of this magnitude took a few weeks to complete. We began by spending some time collecting cardboard goods. Once we had enough recycling, we used duct tape to stick all of the cardboards together. Next was the painting phase. We found some spray paint at a local thrift shop. Yes, even the spray paint was upcycled! At last, we spray painted the piece together, with Isaac painting the “P” and Paige painting the “I.”

What did we learn from this adventure?

First, there’s usually more than one way to recycle!

Second, our recycling issue became our decorating masterpiece; sometimes it takes a problem to come up with an entirely different solution!

Third, and most importantly, an overflowing recycling bin can turn trash into treasure. As we are taught to overfill our Kiddush cup on Shabbat and Havdalah to symbolize that the joy of the weekend will spill over into the coming week, we too can learn that an overflowing recycling can provide an unexpected source of connection and beauty in our home.

Here’s to more Southern Jewish roommate adventures!

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