Special Issues » The People Issue

The Garbage Picker: Matthew Naimi

Founder, Recycle Here



Sometimes it can be hard to take Matthew Naimi seriously — this is the same guy who tried to convince Detroit that it was actually he who painted the infamous Packard Plant Banksy. So when he speaks of his plans for the shipping container-turned classroom that serves as the location for our interview, it’s hard not to raise an amused and skeptical brow.

The floor, Naimi says, came from a school gymnasium. The plywood walls came from last year’s Eminem and Rihanna concert, and they’re insulated with shredded $100 bills from the Federal Reserve. But that’s just phase one. Phase two, he says, will feature a treehouse, solar-powered branches, and some sort of bicycle-powered hologram that we can’t quite follow.

There’s plenty of reason to believe him, though. That’s because Naimi has a propensity for creating fantastic things, seemingly by accident. The shipping container is located in his Lincoln Street Art Park, an outdoor gallery and garden filled with colorful street art and sculptures. It’s next door to Recycle Here, a recycling drop-off that also serves as a community gathering space and performance space — as well as the source of supplies for the art park. The space also hosts Green Living Science, a nonprofit spin-off that provides recycling education.

The building was formerly owned by Naimi’s father’s grocery distribution company, but was vacant by the late ’90s. Naimi had just graduated from the University of Tennessee, where he studied political science and philosophy.

When he got back, Naimi acquired the building from his father to see what he could do with it, first turning it into artist studios and band practice space. He also began leasing the space to a waste hauling company, which is when he applied for a permit from the city to process waste. The city wound up issuing one in error and tried to rescind it — Naimi countered, and the two parties eventually reached a conclusion that allowed Naimi to continue.

Naimi says Recycle Here “was basically formed when some energetic Wayne State student chased me down my driveway.” That student was Sarah Kubik, who convinced him to pursue a community recycling center model. Now, Recycle Here offers a recycling program “done like cavemen would do,” he says. “No machines. You’re bringing us the stuff, you’re separating everything, you’re looking at the numbers, you’re spending time with your garbage, but people really, really love it.”

Naimi says it’s because Recycle Here is more than just a recycling program — it’s where people come to see their neighbors. It’s almost certainly the only recycling center in the country with a wall-sized painting of the MC5 along the wall. And Naimi points out that the more people spend time with their waste, the less likely they are to produce it.

Another unexpected key to Recycle Here and the Lincoln Street Art Park’s success: Money doesn’t change hands here. “People are here not because there’s money to be made or money to be spent, but because there’s experiences to be had,” Naimi says.

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