Make Garbage Great – The Family Guide to a Zero-Waste Lifestyle by TerraCycle founders Tom Szaky and Albe Zakes is a glorious hybrid of coffee table conversation starter, encyclopaedia of materials and major waste streams, and a how-to-handbook for nifty reduce, reuse and upcyle ideas.

It covers the major categories of materials that permeate our everyday lives and then sadly go on to permeate the environment, including in some cases the stomachs of birds and marine life.

In explaining in simple and coherent ways how plastics, metals, paper, textiles, glass, wood, rubber and organics come into our lives, it lays out the footprint picture in a way that shows it is much more vast than just carbon emissions.

A historical timeline is given for each material category, as well as informative snapshots of milestones, niche products, innovations and the commercial players and how they are either helping or hindering the progress towards a less ecologically destructive consumer world.

Szaky and Zakes explain what the options are for choosing less harmful versions of products – like paper made of elephant poo for example – and also what can be recycled and how, with some easy upcycling ideas for products in each category.

Some of the projects they suggest are ones that the company has successfully commercialised through its European and North and South American operations, such as tote bags made from drink pouches.

The book’s extensive use of graphics, illustrations and photography coupled with the engaging, conversational writing style makes the topics both accessible and entertaining. Every school library should have a copy of this book.

The Fifth Estate road-tested the book on an eight-year-old, and there was an immediate enthusiasm for the ideas, information and projects. So much so, it rates highly as something to buy to provide endless hours of entertainment during the upcoming school holidays.

For example you might:

  • make a noticeboard out of old wine corks
  • make a planter full of succulents out of eggshells and an egg carton
  • make a bird feeder for those spring visitors out of a plastic bottle and three plastic spoons
  • make a room divider out of CDs and some timber framing
  • turn a pallet into a coffee table
  • make a tote bag out of an old suit jacket
  • make a candleholder out of half a dozen old small glass items
  • make some bongo drums out of old cans
  • turn old silver forks into place card holders or business card holders
  • weave napkin rings out of food wrappers