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New Life to Old Stuff—Upcycle

By Sandy Beck

Painted window by Janet MosesMore than 311 million people live in this country, and we all collect stuff, an astounding amount of which ends up in landfills.

While recycling reduces a product, such as paper or plastic, and then rebuilds it, upcycling takes something that you would throw away and finds a way to make it into something else, something of greater use and value.

Transforming old or used materials into new and improved products is certainly not a new concept. As a college student, I created candlesticks by stuffing candles into empty wine bottles. A wooden cable spool found at a construction site became my kitchen table. Wooden bushel baskets from the fruit market made lovely lampshades—and still do: cultivatinglife.com/Apple-Basket-Lamp.html.

Today, environmental consciousness combined with an unpredictable economy has led to a major increase in upcycling.

Let’s start with cereal boxes. There are two layers of packaging: the cardboard box and the plastic or waxed paper bag inside. These bags are perfect for storing and freezing other foods, like bread and cookies. They also make good sandwich bags.

Cut off the top of the box, make handles from those strips, cover the box with old wrapping paper or Sunday’s comics, glue on some ribbon and you have a gift box.

Moms can upcycle their t-shirts into cute little girl t-shirt dresses. Use the pattern here, or send your old shirts to Glad Heart at etsy.com/shop/bravaboutique, and they will do it for you.

Animals can benefit from upcycling, too. St. Francis Wildlife converts old t-shirts, sweatshirts and pillowcases into snuggle nests for orphaned baby squirrels. The TLC Animal Shelter will use your old shoeboxes as kitty litter pans. For a magical spring and summer show, make upcycled hummingbird feeders from baby food jars and plastic bottles; plans are here.

Learn how to use material from old clothes to make lampshades, pillowcases, potholders, book covers, quilts and more at craftfoxes.com and at planetforward.ca.

Two of my favorite ideas are for unique hanging planters. One is a tropical bird planter cut from a rubber tire. Make your own or purchase one here. A three-tiered onion basket also makes a beautiful planter; get directions at Cultivatinglife.com.

Clever entrepreneurs are creating successful businesses by giving new life to potential landfill fillers. Rebagz (rebagz.com) makes handbags out of juice packs and nylon rice sacks. Part of their proceeds helps organizations such as Greenpeace.

At etsy.com, an online “handmade marketplace,” many of the items are upcycled, including beautiful jewelry created with old typewriter keys, subway tokens and watch parts.

Upcyclemagazine.com posts new project ideas every week.

Wooden windows, doors, shutters and cribs are amazingly simple to reincarnate as attractive and functional tabletops, shelves, headboards and more. Find wonderful ideas and photos at robomargo.com.

Local folk artist Janet Moses breathes new life into old windows, doors, tin roofs, mirrors, furniture and quilts. "I love the thought of reusing and repurposing old treasures," she says. Purchase her beautiful pieces or attend one of Janet’s monthly workshops at One Heart Earth Center in Monticello or at her studio in Lake City. Contact her at janetmoses.blogspot.com or 386.249.4625.

The possibilities for upcycling are endless. Landfills are not.

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