Runway Recycling

To fashion aficionados and style gurus, “out” is an almost unmentionable word. After all, shoes, jackets and accessories transform with the change of seasons. The waste industry, however, is accustomed to handling things that are “out” — items that have been discarded with the trash and forgotten about like last year's fashion trends. But, a seemingly unlikely collaboration between Waste Management Recycle America (WMRA) and the reality TV show “Project Runway” revealed that dealing with garbage can, in fact, be “in.”

Each week, “Project Runway,” which airs on the Bravo network, pits a group of fashion designers against each other in a variety of challenges, as they design and construct outfits to determine who's “in” and “out.” This season, the show teamed up with the Houston-based Waste Management (WM) subsidiary for one weekly challenge — constructing an outfit from recyclable materials.

Lynn Brown, vice president of corporate communications for WM, quickly spotted an opportunity to make the company and its services more visible. “It's all about teaching people what we really do, and recycling is a big part of that,” Brown says.

The show, which aired in August, was filmed at WMRA's materials recycling facility in Port Newark, N.J. Matthew Coz, director of recycling for WMRA East Group who appeared on the Emmy-nominated program, says the facility processes between 400 and 500 tons of recyclable materials each day. Officials had just three days to prepare for the shoot, which involved gathering materials, safety gear and recycling bins, and cleaning the facility. Because the facility mainly processes commercial recyclables, materials such as mylar and paper were stacked in piles for the designers to sift through. However, consumer recyclables also were included.

The designs were as diverse as the materials used. Challenge winner Michael Knight, a 28-year-old Atlanta resident, constructed a skirt from a burlap peanut sack and a top made of mylar. Thirty-six-year-old Los Angeles resident Jeffrey Sebelia created a knee-length dress from newspaper, while Angela Keslar, a 33-year-old Ohio resident, designed a dress featuring a patchwork of magazine covers. To futher its community efforts, WM has purchased the “recycled” dresses and plans to donate them to various organizations across the country.

WM officials are pleased that their involvement with “Project Runway” has garnered positive responses while promoting the company's dedication to environmental conservation. “We always want to make sure that our messages are getting through,” Coz says. “Clearly, when you look at our company's vision and primary message of environmental protection, [the show] gave us an opportunity to make sure that that message gets reinforced.”

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