Reuse and ReCreate makes treasure from garbage

Roseville mom helps kids make cool stuff from garbage

Donna Sangwin at the Utility Exploration Center in Roseville.

Donna Sangwin at the Utility Exploration Center in Roseville.

Photo By Anne Stokes

Kids don’t need fancy paints, crayons and construction paper to make art. All they need is an extra piece of lamination, broken tile pieces, maybe a piano hammer or an old cigar box—stuff that would otherwise be called “garbage.”

At least that’s what Donna Sangwin believes. So the Roseville mom has built an eco-friendly art program around the idea that clean, unwanted items can be repurposed into material for arts and crafts. Through ReCreate, the nonprofit organization Sangwin founded, she is able to partner with local businesses to collect waste and manufactured byproducts, which she then uses to promote environmental awareness in children through creative expression.

“I want to make a difference with the environment,” she said of the program she started in February out of her home. “I don’t want my kids to get older and ask, ‘What happened here? This was on your watch.’”

Sangwin’s son Zach served as her inspiration. One time, her now 5-year-old son asked his mom to save an item she tossed in the garbage; he could use it to make something cool. She was working for Capital Public Radio—her first foray in the nonprofit world—when she came up with the idea for ReCreate, wrote a business plan, then used her sales and marketing background to collaborate with local companies and stockpile goods.

ReCreate has already diverted more than 2,000 pounds of unwanted waste from landfills. Although some of these items could have been recycled, recycling consumes energy, which makes reuse the greenest option for resource conservation. Sangwin estimates that the program will divert 9 tons of waste by the end of its first year of operation.

Sangwin is currently running ReCreate camps at the Utility Exploration Center in Roseville and ramping up the program for its official start this fall. She’s already secured funding from the city of Rocklin, which directed its Department of Conservation grant to the organization. About 2,000 students will go through the program because of this financial support. She hopes to roll the program into Roseville and Sacramento County by the spring semester of next year. A vehicle filled with salvaged materials will travel to schools and family-oriented community events where kids can take their pick of materials and be educated about the importance of keeping reusable items out of landfills.

Meanwhile, Sangwin has accumulated plenty of supplies from the 20 businesses she works with on an ongoing basis, having already filled a rented storage unit with goodies. An apartment property manager recently offered a big box of binder clips, and Hewlett Packard invites her out twice a month to take what she wants, including foam shapes used to pack computer parts.

Eventually, Sangwin will open a store in downtown Roseville, making salvaged items available for kids, seniors, artisans and anyone else who wants to create in a nontraditional way.

“The community will benefit by being more aware of waste and by having a more vibrant environment,” she said. “The art community here is starting to get its wheels going, and we want to be part of that and become an anchor to the arts district.”

But ReCreate is ultimately all about the kids. With studies showing the importance of art education for children—which often takes a back seat to standardized testing—and the lack of environmental learning kids get at school, programs like ReCreate make sense, especially because they encourage children to unleash their creativity and eco-awareness in a fun, open-ended way.

“It cracks me up how much kids love plastic tennis-ball containers,” Sangwin said, referring to a workshop she observed, which was sponsored by Art From Scrap in Santa Barbara, where kids took this nondescript household item and in 30 minutes turned it into a car, rocket, fish and more.

The containers were just another sign to Sangwin that the unwanted can become wanted, that kids are naturally eager to express themselves creatively in a way that supports a sustainable future.