Newspapers, cereal boxes and empty peanut butter jars may be commonplace to the ordinary eye, but they are treasures to my artistic eye. From discarded containers to wrinkled magazines, the clear plastic bin under my family’s kitchen sink offers a surplus of supplies for my never-ending list of items to be upcycled, or repurposed as opposed to trashed.
Unfortunately, such items often find themselves awaiting slow deaths, most likely in a landfill, according to Budget Dumpster, a company offering rental dumpsters to its customers. Although Americans make up five percent of the world’s population, they produce 30 percent of its garbage, according to the Recycling Coalition of Utah. Even worse, half of the world’s plastic products see only one use before being discarded according to phys.org, a science and technology news platform for the network Science X.
Biodegradable plastics reduce greenhouse gas emissions and come without harmful ingredients such as Bisphenol A, an endocrine disruptor found in many traditional plastics. Bioplastics, however, require specific weather conditions and proper disposal to decompose well, according to the news platform Connect Us Fund. Furthermore, bioplastics may encourage littering since consumers believe they will eventually decompose as Green Home, a company dedicated to sustainable food packaging in Africa, points out.
An alternative to discarding used items is to upcycle them. Not only does upcycling reestablish the value in supposed trash, but it also saves money and reduces garbage, according to Pachamama, a global organization that promotes sustainability. Depending on the materials used, upcycled products often come at no cost to the environment because they reduce, or completely eliminate, the need for further energy and resource expenditure, according to the Green Business Network, a program under the non-profit organization Green America.
Upcycling has given me an insight to the amount of trash produced in my household alone, emphasizing the importance of conserving resources and reducing waste. By finding new uses for everyday objects, especially those that cannot be recycled, I prevent litter from disrupting the environment while encouraging others to do the same.
My interest in upcycling began around third grade when an older friend of mine introduced me to their handmade paper doll collection. After laying eyes on the intricate world of characters and furniture my friend constructed solely from cardboard boxes, paper and tape, I was hooked. I began to scour my house for cardboard to cut up and made sure to save whatever boxes shoes, birthday presents and Christmas gifts arrived in. I used the materials to craft miniature chairs, dressers and tables for my paper family. On a larger scale, I even designed houses for my cats.
My early experience designing paper dolls and crafts allowed me to develop an appreciation for used objects. I learned to see the potential in more materials, such as plastic bottles and aluminum cans. To this day, the art of brainstorming and transforming rejected items still fascinates me.
Although upcycling can appear intimidating at first, most of my creations only require basic materials such as scissors, glue or Mod Podge, making them suitable for beginners. Optional materials that add decoration and originality include stickers, tape or paint. Aside from containing a unique and thoughtful touch unparalleled by anything one might find at a store, upcycled crafts make great gifts for family and friends.
Cutouts from last month’s magazine pasted to an empty yogurt container make a perfect organizer for pens and desk clutter while a bit of thread can stitch worn out garments into anything from dust rags to hair scrunchies. With access to a wide variety of materials, I can craft a seemingly infinite list of useful items and create meaningful art, all while conserving and preventing both recyclables and non-recyclables from wasting away in landfills.
What are your favorite upcycled projects? Let us know in the comments below.