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Imagine Martha Stewart going through your garbage, turning her keen designer’s eye on the things you thought were useless. Welcome to CORA, where our crew of Trash Backwards curators helps citizens rethink and reuse what’s headed toward the landfill, placing it purposefully back into our lives as part of the upcycling movement.

Here’s a quick walkthrough of how the upcoming Trash Backwards mobile app and companion website works – it’s a game changing approach to the more sustainable Rs: rethink, reduce, refuse, and reuse…

When you launch the app on your smart phone, tablet, or web browser, you’re offered both inspirational ideas for your home, as well as a search button.

Instead of pitching your item into the trash can and consigning it to the landfill, we can use the Trash Backwards app to find a better purpose for it. Just tap the search button, type the name of your unwanted stuff, and watch the magic begin!

In this case, we wanted to throw away a hard plastic phone card and an empty coffee bag (we do live in the Pacific Northwest after all). Let’s see what the app tells us…

No need to worry about how to describe it, no need to pick from a list of categories, we’ll just type in what we’ve got.

Let’s start with our empty coffee bag: C..O…F…F…

Cool, the app is already guessing what we’re looking up!

We can select from a whole range of coffee-related results, and our coffee bag is right there for us to click on. Off we go – we’re seconds into this, and we’re about to be connected with some curated options to give our coffee bag a new life. If we were looking up our phone card, we’d be at the same point, one swipe away from discovering what we can do with it.

There’s no need to invest an hour or more of online trawling for end-of-life solutions for each item because the Trash Backwards researchers have done the work for us; collecting and vetting the range of upcycling, reuse, and recycling options.

And check it out, what a great variety of results to choose from!

We can see the three most popular crafty Do It Yourself (DIY) tutorials for transforming our coffee bag into something new and useful (and there are other DIY options available if we want to delve further into the Craft It results). Below that, we can choose to pass our coffee bag on to Trashe Bags, a company that will upcycle our bag into a “Joe Bag.” If we have 10+ bags, they’ll even send a postage-paid mailer and pay us 10 cents per bag – our coffee trash could actually make us money! Below that, we can see directions for composting paper coffee bags… Maybe we’ll look for coffee packaging like that next time, now that we know that’s a possibility.

If we were looking up our plastic phone card, we’d just type in “phone card” to see the top three Craft It results: guitar pick, charms, and plant markers for your garden. If we want more than the top three Craft It results, we’re just one click away from the entire list of DIY options for unwanted phone cards. Below that we’d see the Pass It options, where we discover that several Etsy artists who would love to receive our old phone cards for their handmade jewelry.

Finally, we’d see the Recycle It option for plastic phone, gift, and credit cards, where we learn that Earthworks Systems of Cleveland, OH turns our cards into 100% recycled PVC sheets for the plastic card industry.

For now, we’ve selected a very simple and fast DIY upcycling solution for our coffee bag – we turned it into a vase so we could still enjoy the pretty drawing of a songbird on the label. We also found a simple way to give a new life to our old phone card -in minutes, we transformed our card into four useful guitar picks. Pretty smart!

In addition to what we’ve seen so far, the Trash Backwards Mobile App connects us with ways we can reduce our use of coffee bags and credit cards or turn to zero waste alternatives. It connects us to articles about the environmental and social justice impact of our stuff. It shows us the path our items will take to the nearest landfill or incinerator if that’s the future we choose for them. Plus, it’s easy to use – all this information and more is just a few swipes and clicks away.

Our database is a constantly growing resource, carefully curated and managed by our researchers based on a combination of factors, including environmental impact, clarity of instructions, function, practicality, and pure old-fashioned entertainment value and fun.