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Making Materials Matter

NextFab North Philly, in conjunction with The Resource Exchange, hosted the highly successful Making Materials Matter forum on October 22nd. The forum focused on sustainability and accountability in the arts, our work as makers, and our daily lives.

While the discussion of our role in a sustainable future can be an uneasy one, the conversation, and great work being done by individuals and organizations were inspiring. Topics covered included responsible sourcing, upcycling, recycling, and partnerships that make responsible material use possible and efficient.

Resource Exchange NextFab Forum Panel

The moderator for the evening was the dynamic Alex Mulcahy of the local environmental magazine, Grid. The forum panelists represented a wonderfully diverse set of perspectives and included:

Karyn Gerred, Executive Director of  The Resource Exchange, a salvage/upcycle/recycle shop.
Nic Esposito, Zero Waste and Litter Director from the City of Philadelphia.
Angela McQuillan, Curator of the Esther M. Klein Gallery.
Sara Lepori, Economic Development Zones Manager of the City of Philadelphia.
Tiffany Threadgould, Chief Design Junkie from TerraCycle, a super recycling company.
Angela Vosburgh, Creative Director & Manager of Kevin O’Brien Studios, a local textiles company.

NextFab North Philadelphia Materials Forum


“The goal is to create in relationship with the environment, which can mean a lot of different things to different people.” Relates Karyn Gerred of The Resource Exchange.”Try to see the entire process and its relationship to the environment from start to finish.” This sentiment really resonated and summarizes the theme of the evening. There was also an emphasis on “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” It’s no accident that that statement begins with “reduce.” Accordingly, we really have to reduce our consumption of “disposable” materials in order to reach a more sustainable lifestyle. Many materials are not reusable or recyclable – and the best practice is to avoid them when possible.
NextFab Forum Attendees
It made me pause and think about where things come from and where they go after I use them. It really inspired me to be more thoughtful about what I buy in the future. – PJ Sedgwick, attendee

PJ Sedgwick


TerraCycle is a company that recycles things that wouldn’t ordinarily be reclaimed to the recycling stream. This includes cigarette butts and dirty diapers. However, they also find creative methods of reusing the precious materials that most would call garbage. Tiffany Threadgould, Chief Design Junkie from TerraCycle, does cool things with materials like plastic shopping bags. For instance, by fusing together Target shopping bags, she made a dress fit for the runway. TerraCycle uses this same process to make sturdy reusable bags from disposable plastic bags and packaging.

The Resource Exchange will take materials from art supplies to lumber. And not only are they great for upcycling your old materials, but you are sure to find something valuable for your next project in their shop. You might even find your next project there. Founded in 2009, their initial focus was on reclaiming materials from film and theater sets. Consequently, their inventory was incredibly diverse and interesting. In their first year, they saved over 30 tons of what was once considered “waste” for reuse. They also helped to divert over 600 tons of would-be landfill fodder for recycling. Since then they have grown to be a leader in the Philadelphia salvage market.

Tiffany Threadgould

Another highlight of the evening was the presentation of member work that focuses heavily on repurposed materials. Machelle Nettles’ jewelry is a great example of recontextualizing “waste material.” Her jewelry uses recycled metals and salvaged scientific glass to beautiful effect.Machelle Nettles and Mark Brandon


From city recycling programs to companies like TeraCycle turning cigarette butts into items such as park benches and railroad ties – there are a lot of exciting things happening with recycling. Nic Esposito explains, “We do household hazardous waste drop-off programs once a month. We are expanding e-waste collection – anything with a plug, you can bring and drop off at our convenience centers.” Philadelphia businesses are also making it easier. Mom’s Organic Market takes a wide variety of recyclables such as snack bags, old shoes, and Christmas lights during the holidays. BestBuy and Staples recycle electronics and H&M will recycle your old clothes. These are great additions to Philadelphia’s curbside recycling program.

And what about NextFab? NextFab does a number of things from sawdust and wood scrap collection and recycling to metal recycling. NextFab provides scrap bins in each shop at every location for members to reuse and pick from at no additional charge. Wood, metal, foam, and acrylic scrap are readily available in the scrap bins. In addition, NextFab uses E-Force Compliance, which is a committed local recycling company in South Philly that tailor their recycling program to specific organizations based on their needs.

NextFab and The Resource Exchange

“This event was hopefully the first of many that NextFab and The Resource Exchange will host together,” says Marcelle Rice. “Since we will be co-locating next year in our new building on American Street, we are getting a head start and seeing what kinds of programming will be engaging for both of our audiences. I think this topic of sustainability in the arts drew a really great crowd of passionate, creative, and responsible people which is exactly what we were hoping for. We’re excited to host more events like it in the future!”