If you’ve ever put a mirror in an old picture frame or turned a cracked teacup into a candleholder, you’re officially an upcycler. Along with reducing and recycling, reusing our belongings in new ways – or upcycling – can help reduce our impact on the environment.
You might call Justin Nadeau a professional upcycler. As School Food Innovation Coordinator for Toronto’s FoodShare (see featured project), he’s developed a number of food-themed upcycled creations – from VegeQuariums to bicycle-powered blenders to the File A Sprout, a filing cabinet turned seedling grow chamber. “I’ve been labelled the ‘Inventionator’,” he says. “I tinker around in our shop and find ways to turn old things into things that will inspire young people to grow food.”
His award-winning VegeQuarium pairs discarded aquariums with indoor gardens. As water cycles through the system, the waste produced by the fish feeds the plants. “I took an aquarium and upcycled it into an ecosystem,” he explains.
Why upcycle? “Aside from keeping things out of the waste stream, upcycling gives you a great story,” says Justin. “Every time you walk by your ingenious reuse of some ‘waste’ material, you’re reminded of the creation process and often inspired to find more ways to turn old or unused things into something beautiful and new.”
Do try these at home
Here are some ideas on how you too can “reduce and reuse” everyday objects in unexpected, eco-friendly ways.
Self-watering bottle planter. “This idea is very simple and great for balconies,” says Justin:
- Cut an empty two-litre pop bottle in half. Take the top half, turn it over, and nest it in the bottom half.
- Run a piece of cloth, string, or yarn through a hole in the bottle cap, connecting the two chambers.
- Add soil to the top section for planting, and add water to the bottom through a hole cut a few inches from the base.
Wooden pallet coffee table: Why buy furniture if you can “find” it? “You kind of have to always walk around with an eye for things,” says Justin.
- Find a discarded pallet.
- Clean, sand, stain, or varnish.
- Attach four casters to the bottom.
Paper roll bird feeder: This is the ideal season to help feed the birds:
- Spread peanut butter over the outside of a toilet paper roll (or a paper towel roll cut in half).
- Roll in birdseed to cover surface. Pat down to secure feed.
- Hang roll on the tip of a tree branch and watch for birds.
Sunscreen hide-a-key: If you’re packing for a winter beach getaway, this project is ideal – and couldn’t be simpler:
- Wash out an old sunscreen bottle.
- Use it to safely hide your keys or cash at the beach.
Card guitar picks: Instead of cutting up your expired credit, debit, or gift cards, why not turn them into guitar picks, key fobs, or jewellry?
- Punch out guitar picks using a special punch tool (that resembles a stapler).
- Or cut the card into shapes, using scissors. Punch a hole for key rings or jewellry wire.
- Leave card design as is or cover with contact paper.
Muffin tray jewellry holder: Give an old muffin tin new life as a jewellry organizer:
- Scrub away any rust marks.
- Paint tray and use the 12 cups to hold jewellry.
Spindle case bagel tote: When you’ve used all the CDs or DVDs in your spindle case, upcycle it into a bagel tote for your lunch bag.
Wine cork trivet: Glue together a group of standing wine corks for an instant trivet.
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