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2012 January 27

It’s doubtful that clothing, jewelry, furniture, or even building materials comes to mind, right? Perhaps you were picturing bicycling uphill instead?

In fourth grade, my best friend was way ahead of the curve. She took a cracker box, paper towel roll, pieces of an empty cereal box, purple paint, sparkles, and glue to give another friend of ours a moving away gift they’d never forget.

Many would have overlooked and discarded that stuff to disintegrate in a landfill somewhere. Instead, she scooped them up and created a masterful “mantelpiece.”

Nowadays upcycled goods and ideas are everywhere. Granted, most of them are a bit more professionally constructed, but the idea is very much the same.

Our first Pick 5 stories featured upcycling. The lusakaU.S. Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia, shared with us that they were donating their rubbish to local upcyclers who made more useful and artistic goods such as reusable bags and paper.

In another story, a group of widows and single moms in Chikumbuso, Zambia, were crocheting strips of plastic grocery bags into more durable reusable bags and making beads from glass. The sales were supporting a school for their children and the community’s orphans.

LusakaUpcycling is good for us. It cuts down on our waste that ends up in the environment, helps spread awareness and inspiration for environmental action and can support local artisans and communities. Personally, I’d rather give and receive handmade gifts any day, especially if the purchase was supporting a good cause.

Could this work for a school or community fundraiser event near you? Spread the word and get others to join you, or try a family upcycling challenge. Join 8,183 others and make upcycling part of your Pick 5, share your story and inspire others to do the same.

In two weeks, I’ll feature a new upcycling story from you in a blog post and at

Share your story Flickr, here as a comment, or on Facebook. I can’t wait to see what you create!

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our environment.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. Amy Bauman, greenGoat permalink
    January 27, 2012

    Boston Children’s Museum does one show a year featuring art from reclaimed materials. It’s awesome. Last year, they had super cute tote bags stitched from rice bags, an easy chair KNIT from newspaper wrappers, and a pantheon of other creations.

    Hey … it’s only trash if you CALL it trash! I LOVE the idea of clear trash bags that actually encourage trash picking. San Jose does this … curious if it works well.

  2. kiyohisa tanada permalink
    January 28, 2012

    “Some sales” contribute it to underprivileged children while the UNICEF sold a product.
    “The article which children made” is financial funds of the contribution.
    I think that this is a more splendid thing than “merely receiving contribution”.

  3. June MacArthur permalink
    January 28, 2012

    When we decide we don’t need something we sell it on Ebay, or if we need something we buy it there also. We try not to buy anything new anymore. We just store it out in that big storage container called Ebay!

  4. Anonymous permalink
    January 29, 2012

    don’t post a cool idea and not show it!

  5. Jeanethe Falvey permalink
    February 3, 2012

    Thanks for sharing this! Have you been inspired to make something yourself? :)

  6. July 2, 2012

    I upcycle unwanted items into jewelry – have been for 5+ years and it’s been my full-time job for a long time now!

  7. July 24, 2012

    I love recycling via upcycling, it’s great for fundraising or just an eco friendly hobby. They do make the perfect gift though, and once you start your constantly looking at what something can be recycled into!

  8. First Mile permalink
    April 2, 2013

    Is becoming more important for our customers to see innovation like this, upcycle and reduce waste rather than just recycling it. Some great examples above.

  9. First Mile permalink
    April 3, 2013

    Great example is also Terracycle who do some amazing upcycling projects.

  10. permalink
    April 27, 2013

    i like this post, many thank !

  11. Suzanna McMahan permalink
    May 13, 2013

    I have been upcycling old items like keys, postcards, costume pieces, pocket watches and postage stamps into jewelry since 2006 after Katrina moved me from the MS Gulf Coast to Central MS where I’ve grown up. Haven’t looked back since!

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