Strewn across Dale Leavay’s basement workshop are the bags and wrappers of potato chips, pet food, cookies, candies and more. Though much of it appears to be garbage, the Southold resident has taken what others tossed and turned it into a viable business.
“I’ve always been fascinated by what people discard,” she said. “I was in New York City one day and just saw so much garbage. I knew I could do something.”
That’s how “Moreland’s Upcycling,” Leavay’s side business, was born.
She takes everyday throwaway items and repurposes them into useable, durable bags, wallets, lunch boxes and key chains. Burlap, cotton, plastic — if it’s being thrown away, Leavay can probably use it.
She sells her handmade products online through the craft site Etsy and at farmers and flea markets across New York State. She began selling the items in June 2015 and her inventory shrinks and grows regularly as she often sells out of her entire stock at one market.
“You never know what’s going to sell,” she said. “There’s a wide range of products that appeal to a lot of people.”
Leavay’s friends, family and neighbors happily oblige her zany request to bring her their rubbish, and she’ll eagerly peruse through someone’s garbage (with their permission, of course). She even dumpster dives at some “big box stores,” she said, and sometimes will buy something just because she likes its packaging, like North Fork Potato Chips.
“I like looking at something and deciding how I can make it into something else,” she said. “This whole thing has evolved over garbage.”
Once the trash is in her hands, Leavay cleans it thoroughly. Sometimes she’ll coat the material with a strengthening and protective layer, but often the item itself is strong enough that it would take dozens of years to break down in a local landfill. Leavay then decides on a style and lines the piece with a recycled fabric that she’s found.
From garbage picking to designing and sewing, Leavay does it all. She works full-time at Peconic Landing in Greenport and spends about three hours everyday creating new merchandise for the company. Her daughter, Tess Leavay, lives in Brooklyn and helps out behind the scenes, running the business’ Etsy and Instagram pages, and eating packages of Ramen Noodle Soup so there’s more material to make those soup inspired wallets.
While Moreland’s Upcycling is doing well, Leavay plans to keep the business part-time until she retires. In the meantime she is working out how to create Ipad and Iphone cases, as well as more items for men, such as ties.
“I get excited by garbage,” she said. “This is a hobby that will maybe one day be a full fledged business.”
You can visit Moreland’s Upcycling online at morelandsupcycling.etsy.com.
Moreland’s Upcycling will have a booth with items for sale at Peconic Landing’s Holiday Showcase, Nov. 28, 10 to 3 p.m., and at the Very Baymen Christmas Fair, Hampton Bays High School, Dec. 5, 9 to 3 p.m.