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August 21, 2023
By this point, most of us are pretty familiar with the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle. But what about all those other environmentally friendly words that get tossed around? Upcycle, biodegradable, low carbon footprint, sustainable…the list seems endless and can easily get overwhelming. Today I’m going to break down one of those potentially less familiar (but still very important) terms for you: Upcycling!
Upcycling uses elements of the three R’s along with some creativity and resourcefulness to give new life to objects that would otherwise be discarded. The big idea behind upcycling is that it transforms an object by adding value to it, rather than just recycling or reusing it.
An insect hotel made from pallets. Photo Credit: Mika Baumeister
The Chesapeake Bay watershed and similar areas are crucial environments for championing the proper disposal (or reuse!) of trash and recycling, as items can easily become washed into a tributary and ultimately wind up in the Bay. Once in the Bay, marine life can become entangled in them or accidentally consume them as they break down into microplastics, which is highly detrimental to the individual organisms and the entire Bay ecosystem. Therefore, it is especially important for those of us in the watershed to ensure we are doing our part to keep our trash and recycling out of the water.
A planter made from a milk carton. Photo Credit: Noah Eleazar
The benefits of upcycling generally fall into a few major categories: environmental, societal and personal.
Now that you know a little more about upcycling and its benefits, I encourage you to try it out. Note: the websites linked below are not affiliated with the Alliance.
Endless Pasta-bilities: transform your empty sauce jars.
Instead of throwing the jar in the recycling once you’ve eaten the sauce inside, wash it thoroughly and soak it in hot water to remove the label (you can scrub it with dish soap or baking soda to remove stubborn residue bits). Once the jar is dry, you have a perfect blank canvas for dozens of projects, like a painted vase or storage container. Click here for some inspiration and instructions.
Image Credit: burlapkitchen.com
Turn your old t-shirts into some paws-itively phenomenal doy toys.
Does your t-shirt have a stain or rip making it unwearable? Cut it into strips and braid them together to make a durable chew toy that’s also great for some tug of war with your furry friend! Click here for a short video tutorial.
Image Credit: LIVEKINDLY via YouTube
Keep in mind that while I have only included two project ideas here, there are many more forms that upcycling can take, and numerous resources on the internet for guidance and inspiration. And if DIY activities aren’t really your thing but you still want to do your part to keep trash out of the Bay, I encourage you to check out the Alliance’s Project Clean Stream Initiative.
By Zoe Barbour, Green Infrastructure Projects Intern