Although New Yorkers will be celebrating Earth Day on Friday, one Queens organization aims to make sure the idea of reusing and recycling resonates in the minds of people every day.
Materials for the Arts (MFTA) is New York City’s municipal reuse program that collects a massive variety of reusable materials from businesses and individual donors and makes them available — all for free — to its member organizations.
Members who receive the free items include nonprofit arts organizations, social organizations that have arts programming and public schools across the five boroughs.
“Every day is kind of Earth Day at Materials for the Arts,” said Harriet Taub, executive director of MFTA. “Our whole modus operandi is keeping things out of the landfill and passing it out to organizations.”
The way the program works is members head to the MFTA’s Long Island City site, located at 33-00 Northern Blvd., and take part in “shopping sessions,” which take place twice a week.
Members have the chance to take any item from the multiple aisles inside the Queens warehouse and the only requirement from members is that they write letters thanking donors for their donations.
Items — which range in everything from school supplies to household item — are donated from donors such as Jet Blue, Kenneth Cole, Marc Jacobs, Google, Estee Lauder, Target and many more.
“We’re all under this sort of umbrella that instead of buying new, how can you use what you have, creatively repurpose or donate to an organization,” Taub said.
MFTA is operated by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs with support from the Department of Sanitation and Department of Education.
Along with providing the free items, MFTA also offers a learning experience through its Education Center. Teachers and members of the public are taught how to make art by reusing materials that would initially just wind up in the trash.
The mission is to find ways to contribute to the art world — and the growing artists — without having to spend a dime. Instead, MFTA hopes individuals can give items a second or even third life.
“Reusing is just an important part of sustainability,” said John Kaiser, director of education for MFTA. “It’s great to recycle but the carbon footprint is even less when you reuse.”
Before entering the warehouse, members are also welcomed with an onsite gallery featuring work from artists – and sometimes students — which use reused items in their work.
Currently, MFTA is featuring 12 collage works from artist Juan Hinojosa who used items found at the warehouse.
And even if people cannot make the studio-style courses offered at the facility, MFTA also provides project ideas via its website.
Projects include creating a birdhouse from old three-ring binders, using a sock and creating a puppet, and making a wind chime out of records and cassette tapes.
“Just because you don’t need it anymore doesn’t mean somebody else can’t use it or repurpose it,” Taub said.
Taub added that even if New Yorkers do not make it to the MFTA location, she encourages them to go out and see if they can swap items within their community or donate items to local groups.
“Unfortunately to so many people Earth Day is just Earth Day,” Taub said. “Our goal is to make sure that they are consistently thinking of reusing, recycling and keep it in the forefront.”