GUEST BLOGGER: ANDREA SCHMUTZ, USU EXTENSION ASSISTANT PROFESSOR
“Look what I found! Can you make something with it?” When my kids were growing up, this was a common greeting as they walked in the door from school. Sometimes they had found a real treasure that held great potential for upcycling. The gold star days were when they opened up their lunch boxes and pulled out multiple empty juice pouches (i.e. CapriSun) they had collected from their friends. We would wash them out and plot all of the many projects we could make with the “trash”.
From the time they were young, I tried to instill in my children their role in protecting the earth and being good stewards of the resources around them. Before they were old enough to understand things like “carbon footprint”, I focused on helping them understand simple concepts like waste and trash. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was also teaching them some simple money management skills while fostering creativity that would pay off when the budget was tight.
Have you ever stopped and thought about the connection between being a steward of the earth and a guardian of your budget? When we breathe new life into a discarded object, we save money and we help save the earth one small step at a time. Here are four common household materials that can be upcycled into useful projects or gifts:
Plastic bags: Cut them into 1 ½ - 2 inch strips to create “plarn” (plastic yarn) and crochet them into bags or rugs. You could even make sleeping mats to donate to the homeless. (There are many great tutorials on the internet.) Most of the projects use basic crochet skills so this is a great way to learn a new skill if you don’t already know how to crochet. I made bags/purses for my children’s teachers using plarn and I always had the kids crochet a row or two so they could say they helped make it. The teachers loved them, they didn’t cost me any extra money, and I was able to spend a little one on one time with my kids as we made them.
Milk jugs: You can cut up plastic milk jugs in a variety of ways and use them for a wide range of projects. One of my favorite memories of Halloween was the milk jug skeletons my mom would help us make. Milk jugs are great for garden projects, games, and storage solutions. If you are looking for frugal activities for your kids, check out the list of 50 Physical Activities to do with Milk Jugs from beactivekids.org.
Cardboard boxes: Cardboard comes in all shapes and sizes, colors, and weights. We use cereal boxes for magazine or piano book storage, or cut them up to make puzzles. Large boxes work great for forts or games like cornhole. Browse the DIY & Crafts article “35 Brilliant DIY Repurposing Ideas for Cardboard Boxes” and use it as a springboard to generate some of your own ideas.
Juice Pouches: Purses, wallets, pencil holders – the sky’s the limit on what you can make with empty juice pouches. Many of the projects that you see online are sewn together, but if you don’t sew, you can use duct tape. Better yet, punch holes around the edges of the CapriSun pouches and use the plarn that you made from plastic bags to whipstitch the edges together. I taught this to my 8 year old cub scouts many years ago and they made bags for their moms for Mother’s Day. The moms loved their bags!
Over the years, as we have upcycled our discarded materials into useful items to use around our home or transformed them into items that made fun gifts or games, we have saved quite a bit of money. The kids gained an appreciation for using the resources they had before spending money on something else and eventually grew to understand that through these actions, they could help reduce their carbon footprint.
I had a “proud mom” moment recently when my college age son said, “Mom, I found this in my room and I don’t use it anymore, but parts of it are still in good shape. Do you think we could upcycle it into something useful?” I’ve trained him well!
Andrea works for USU Extension in Washington County where she utilizes innovative approaches to teach frugal living, healthy lifestyles, and resilience. She loves sharing her passion for STEM and the outdoors with anyone who will join her.
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