Here are just a few easy upcycling projects to get the ideas flowing:
That favorite old shirt may be too ratty to wear in public, but it’s perfect for a soft and stylish throw pillow.
Game Board Wall Art
You loved Chutes and Ladders, but you haven’t played it since you were seven. Here’s a way to clear out that game cabinet without throwing out the memories.
Pillowcase Garment Bag
Old pillow cases are the perfect size and shape for covering suits, prom dresses, and other fancy clothes to keep them fresh and dust-free while in long-term storage.
Coffee Pot Terrarium
Coffee pot decanters—and any other old, chipped, or otherwise unloved glass container—can become your little indoor micro-garden.
Dryer Lint and Cooking Oil Fire Starter
For those with a real fireplace or woodstove at home, this simple recipe recycles both old dryer lint and used cooking oil.
T-shirt Tote Bag
Reusable bags are an earth-friendly staple. Take the idea a step further by upcycling your own instead of buying them.
America loves fast food. The world loves fast food. But fast food creates a lot of packaging, especially when it’s taken “to go.” While huge fast food chains such as McDonalds and Starbucks are making efforts to switch to recycled, sustainable, or at least recyclable packaging, the overall effect of these changes is not likely to have much impact unless our habits change.
Recycling food packaging is a nice idea, but the fact is, only a small fraction of it is actually recycled. A 2015 report by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) explains that Americans recycle less than 14 percent of its plastic food packaging. That same single-use food packaging is one of the primary sources of the almost 270 tons of plastic waste in the world’s oceans.
The problem of minimal recycling has only gotten worse since 2015. According to the EPA, in 2017, only 13 percent of all plastic containers were recycled in the U.S., and almost 70 percent went to the landfill.
If we’re not recycling even the recyclable stuff, a better solution is to cut out the packaging altogether. Fast food, or take-out from any restaurant, is a good place to start.
For this week’s challenge, if you eat out, try to leave the restaurant without needing packaging. Some fast food restaurants, such as Mad Greens, make this easy by using real (not disposable) dishware and utensils for dining-in orders. If you really can’t take a few extra minutes to dine in, choose fast food joints that have made a commitment to minimal packaging that is recyclable or, better yet, made with 100% recycled materials. Then recycle it!
Liquid soap isn’t the first thing most people think of when it comes to reducing their environmental impact. But surprisingly, liquid soap has a large impact with its packaging and energy use. Luckily, there are easy alternatives that you can make yourself or buy for not a lot of money.
According to Conservation Magazine, “liquid soaps require five times more energy for raw material production and nearly 20 times more energy for packaging production than bar soaps do” (Tyler 1) . In addition, on average, people use over six times less soap in a single use when they use bar soaps. This means that bar soap lasts much longer than liquid soap, so it’s also an economical choice.
Liquid soaps typically contain more chemicals than bar soaps, and these chemicals go through the water system and end up in the ocean and the Great Lakes. This harms the flora and fauna in the water.
Unfortunately, bar soaps do have their drawbacks. They contain more natural ingredients, which requires land to produce. This makes the land impact of liquid soap less than that of bar soap.
For the next two weeks, use bar soap instead of liquid soap. This will lessen your impact with packaging, chemicals, and soap use.
There are many eco-friendly soaps that are very inexpensive. Any bar soap will require less plastic and will last longer than a liquid soap. You can get bar soap from most stores. If you’re the DIY type, you can easily make your own soap with a custom blend of ingredients.
Johnson, Donna. “What Are the Ingredients of Liquid Soap?” Healthfully, 24 Dec. 2019, healthfully.com/what-are-the-ingredients-of-liquid-soap-4998848.html.
O'Brien, Brendan. “Consider The Environmental Impact Of Soap.” CleanLink, 19 Mar. 2015, www.cleanlink.com/cp/article/Consider-The-Environmental-Impact-Of-Soap--18045.
Tyler, David. “Bar Soap vs. Liquid Soap.” Conservation, University of Washington, 25 July 2013, www.conservationmagazine.org/2013/05/bar-soap-vs-liquid-soap/.
Cows produce methane, which is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, causing the planet to warm. The dairy industry is responsible for 2% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.
It takes 144 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of milk.
In addition to the climate-related risks, dairy farming is a huge animal welfare issue. Dairy cows are treated inhumanely, even when they live on supposedly “humane” farms. In order to make them produce a lot of milk year-round, dairy cows are forcibly impregnated. The babies that they have are taken from their mothers, usually when they’re only a few days old. Many of the calves that won’t be useful in the future for their milk are killed for either veal or cheap beef.
For the next two weeks, drink plant-based milk instead of dairy milk. Some alternatives to dairy milk include almond milk, oat milk, and soy milk.
Sources“Dairy.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund, www.worldwildlife.org/industries/dairy.
“ELimu: Resources and Economic Activities.” ELimu | Resources and Economic Activities, learn.e-limu.org/topic/view/?c=48&t=274
“Milk's Impact on the Environment.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund, 2019, www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/winter-2019/articles/milk-s-impact-on-the-environment.
“What about Humanely Raised Milk and Dairy Products?” Free From Harm, 10 Sept. 2016, freefromharm.org/farm-animal-welfare/what-about-humanely-raised-milk-and-dairy-products/.
Kitchen sponges are unhealthy both for the environment and for the humans who use them. They’re synthetic, which means that they’re made of plastic. Plastic is always bad news, but sponges are rarely thought of as a large problem.
Sponges contain polyurethane and triclosan, chemicals that should not come into contact with anything people will be eating with or off of. They are also dyed blue with cheap dyes, which are also full of chemicals.
Keeping a sponge for a long time to reduce waste is not the solution. It’s not healthy to use a dirty sponge because bacteria builds up over time, which can make you sick.
Level One - Largest amount of waste, least amount of money
For two weeks, use a dishcloth or a rag instead of a sponge. Fabric doesn’t have the same cleaning effect as a sponge, but it still works well. This reduces waste because a towel or rag can be thrown in the washing machine, and you can use one that you already have. The downside to this solution is that fabric wears out and has to be thrown away eventually.
OR (level one)
Instead of a sponge, use a reusable sponge-type cloth. If you don’t already have one, you can buy one for less than $5 at a lot of different stores. Even though this is buying something new, these cloths last longer than fabric ones do, and they work better.
Level Two - Zero waste, more money.
If you’re looking for a way to go zero waste in the kitchen, use a compostable dish scrubber. These can be made of coconut husk, bamboo, and other natural materials. They’re compostable, so when you’re done with them, just toss them in your compost pile.
Red plastic cups, a staple of almost every outdoor party, are, not surprisingly, pretty terrible for the environment. Obviously, they’re made of plastic, which is made of non-renewable resources that are impossible to get to without harming the earth. Although they’re usually recyclable, many plastic cups aren’t recycled and end up in landfills or out in the environment, where they become harmful to wildlife.
Each year, tens of billions of plastic cups are used in U.S.--9 billion of those are from the airline industry alone.
These are big numbers, for sure, but they represent just a fraction of the disposable cups that are used. If you add foam cups and paper (usually plastic-lined paper) cups, the grand total is 100 billion per year. In the U.S. alone.
For the next two weeks, don’t use any plastic cups. Comment to let others know you’re taking the challenge!
The planet thanks you.
If you’re hosting a party, use cups that aren’t single-use. If you don’t have enough of your own, borrow some from a friend. Guests can write their names on the cups with a glass marker or a dry-erase marker.
If you’re going to a party, bring your own water bottle or cup that you can bring back home and wash.
Every year, 50 billion disposable coffee cups are thrown away in the US alone. According to eC02Greetings, if we stacked all of these coffee cups into a pyramid, it would reach 701m (almost 2300 ft). All of these cups go into landfills because they can’t be recycled, along with their plastic lids and plastic or wood stir sticks.
Even though most coffee cups are made of paper, they aren’t recyclable because they are lined with polyethylene plastic for durability. In addition, most plastic tops and stirrers are not recyclable.
For the next two weeks, don’t use disposable coffee cups (or lids or stirrers).
Comment to let us know you’re taking the challenge!
The planet thanks you!
Bring your own travel mug or coffee cup to your favorite coffee shop! Coffee shops often sell reusable cups and mugs, and many will give you a discount for bringing your own.
Cling wrap is one of the most common items made to wrap food, but it’s single use plastic. While aluminum foil might seem like a more eco-friendly alternative, it’s actually just as bad, if not worse, than cling wrap.
Plastic wrap is commonly made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) or linear LDPE (LLDPE). Just like with all plastics, there are major drawbacks. It’s single use, and when it is reused, it doesn’t work as well and usually ends up getting replaced anyway. Plastic is also made with non-renewable materials, and this type can’t be recycled.
On the other hand, aluminum foil takes a lot more energy to manufacture (almost 6 times the amount required for cling wrap) as well as uses resources that have to be mined. The carbon emissions caused by foil production and manufacturing exceeds that of plastic wrap. Foil is also more toxic to nature, where it can harm flora and fauna if thrown away and released into the environment. Foil does have its good points, though. It’s easy to reuse, and its impact is reduced with every reuse. Aluminum can also be recycled indefinitely.
For the next two weeks, don’t use any cling wrap or aluminum foil. If this seems too hard, pick one of the two to cut out for one week, and try to do the other during the second week.
Comment to take the challenge!
The planet thanks you!
Products like beeswax wraps (made of beeswax and cotton, compostable) and fabric sandwich wraps can be easily washed and reused. They can be used for both covering and wrapping food. Another alternative that cover dishes are silicone lids that stretch over a cup or bowl.
The amount of water it takes to produce one pound of beef could hydrate the average American for 43 years. One pound of beef takes up to 2500 gallons of water to produce. Chicken takes 500-600 gallons/pound, which is less than beef but more than alternatives to meat. Going vegetarian saves water, and also saves the lives of the 270 animals that the average American meat-eater eats.
Worldwide, close to 3 billion animals are killed for food every day. Most of these animals are inhumanely farmed and then slaughtered for human consumption. This is a horrible and unnecessary practice.
Becoming vegetarian is not as hard as many people think it is. I’ve been a vegetarian for almost four years and, yes, there are still meat foods that I wish I could still eat, but there are many alternatives to meat. As more and more people become vegetarian, the demand for good meat substitutes grows.
For the next two weeks, be a vegetarian! If you’re daunted by this task, try doing it for just a week or a few days. You’ll find it easier than you expect!
The standard at fast food restaurants and backyard parties, plastic silverware is a favorite for minimizing clean up and costs. But, as you may have guessed, it is a classic example of single-use plastic.
Single-use plastic (designed to be used once) is common in today's world and is a huge pollution problem. These disposable materials take a lot of energy and resources to make but are typically used for a matter of minutes. After they're thrown away, even cheap plastics can last for thousands of years.
In addition to being single-use, most plastic silverware is made of a plastic called polystyrene, which usually can't be recycled. From the landfill, it can pollute local ecosystems, posing a threat to plant and animal health.
For the next two weeks, don't use any plastic silverware. Comment to take the challenge!
Quick tip: Many takeout and fast food restaurants put plastic silverware in with your to-go bags without telling or asking you. Make sure you say that you don't want it ahead of time.
There are a lot of alternatives to plastic silverware. For parties, use your everyday household silverware and give guests a place to put their dirty silverware when they are finished. If you don't have enough, borrow some from a neighbor or friend. Or, if you entertain a lot, pick up a permanent set of party ware at a thrift store.
If you need to use disposable silverware, use compostable types. They are more expensive than plastic, but they can be put into a compost pile and help your garden grow.
Bamboo is a great alternative for many plastic products, including silverware. There are sets of bamboo silverware that contain enough for one person that you can take with you.
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