One of our Top 10 2017 Ecobrickers of the Year

Jo was introduced to ecobricks by a friend who didn’t call it an ecobrick. To his friend it was just a neat backpacking solution– rather than toss his plastic on a hike, he would stuff it into a plastic bottle.  This simple idea was to change Jo’s life forever.  Jo realized that it is possible to take responsibility for one’s own waste and transform it.  It was the first step in a journey that would take him, and ecobricks,  from his home of New Mexico, to Africa and back again.

Rio Chama Overlook, New Mexico, USA

Jo loves nature.  He draws inspiration from it and would live in the wild full time if it wasn’t for all the problems that humans are causing it these days.  Plastic, whether it is littering the ruggedly beautiful deserts of his home of Santa Fe, or festering in a South African ditch, has long pulled Jo’s heartstrings.

Jo is an artist, full of ingenuity and passion. Perhaps this was what enabled him to see the plastic bottle in a way that most others could not.   Rather than something to toss away, he became convinced that it held a deep, untapped potential, to solve plastic pollution.

While finishing his Holistic Science Masters degree at Schumacher College in 2012 he ran a project for 3 months in South Africa.   In a country where a majority of the waste is burnt, littered or land-filled, there is plastic pollution everywhere.  The problem was clear.   It was evident that the town and the country had no solution for plastic.

However, the people had solutions!  In the small town of Greyton, Jo discovered countless ways that his neighbours were re-purposing their “waste”.  It was the perfect context to introduce Ecobricking.  It fit right in with trash transformation that was already going on.

To celebrate all the incredible local innovation he threw a party at the local Greyton dumpsite. He invited all his friends, and their friends, to showcase sustainable ideas to inspire the community to think twice about their waste items and their potential.  Musicians and artists joined in.  It was an epic blast.

The party, now know as the Trash to Treasure Festival, has become an annual event.

At the Trash to Treasure festivals, structures have been built with ecobricks, tyres, and more.  Beautiful art work and practical crafts are likewise on display– all great example of community and citizen powered solutions to what was once waste. This thinking has impacted Greyton so much that to this day schools ecobrick, build and continue to practice zero waste concepts.

When Jo returned to his home of Santa Fe, he realized that ecobricks weren’t just for Africans.

Jo became acutely aware that despite the best intentions of his neighbours, and the best efforts of his municipality, there were no good solutions for plastic even in America!  Although the streets and sidewalks of his home were litter-free, this didn’t mean that plastic had been solved.  As he investigated, often digging into dumpsites himself, he realized that in Santa Fe the plastic was just better hidden– an efficient system was in place to send it to toxic landfills or to export it to other countries.

Jo realized that one of the main reasons people in Santa Fe kept using plastic was because they didn’t know there was no good solution!  Determined to do something about this in his home, he founded his own organization: Upcycle Santa Fe.

As Jo puts it “Here at Upcycle Santa Fe we believe that human beings are capable of great things, such as cleaning up after themselves.”

Upcycle Santa Fe focuses on transforming detrimental and toxic waste management systems into beneficial ones.  The focus for Jo is education.  To solve a problem, people first need to be aware that there is one.  Jo has worked with many in his community to clean up local rivers and areas, collect non recyclables from businesses, build educational structures, and teach in schools.  Lately, Jo partnered with the Los Alamos Research Institute and did valuable research for the global ecobrick community on the safety of building with ecobricks.

Jo will eventually land up on a beautiful island somewhere (that perhaps he builds with ecobricks!), but for now we are glad to have him inspiring ecological consciousness globally, and best of, locally in Santa Fe, New Mexico.