In America, we think nothing of chucking old picture frames, coat hangers, and toys into the trash. But in Cuba, objects are reinvented every day in ways that transcend basic recycling. A telephone becomes an electric fan; a plastic bottle, a taxi sign; a squeeze toy, a bike horn.
No Waste, a new booklet from design consultancy Pentagram Design, has preserved archetypes of Cuba's remarkably inventive recycling. The collection is a tribute to creativity, says Fernando Gutierrez, the Pentagram partner who discovered the work. "It's the complete other side of the way we consume and the way technology has led us," he says. "Making something out of nothing is real recycling, not the pretentious kind. There is a na?vete, a purity, about it all, about simply needing the gadget at the end of the day. It's very meaningful."
After the Soviet Union's collapse in the early 1990s, Cuba entered an economic crisis known as the "special period." Amid widespread poverty, Cubans were forced to use whatever products they could, because there was nothing else. In 1994, Cuban designer Ernesto Oroza began documenting such "objects of necessity." With filmmaker Nelson Rossel and architect Fabian Martinez, he formed the Laboratorio de Creaci - n Maldeojo, a creative cooperative that provided the photos for No Waste.
"The objects of necessity represent the world I live in, and they express our desire to invent and not let ourselves be overwhelmed by our problems," Oroza says. "They reveal the hardships we've endured all these years and our hope that the state of things in Cuba will change. They are provisional objects that will disappear, but still deserve to be recorded."
For a free copy of No Waste, email Pentagram (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A version of this article appeared in the February 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.