Tag Archives: recycle

Book Ends

This is a cool project alert! So clever and creative– not to mention really neat looking. I saw this in the lonby of the Marriott in downtown Milwaukee and was immediately lured to it, practically pushing aside hungover wedding party guests and moms yelling at their kids to get to it. From afar it looks like different sized blocks (which also would have been cool).

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But it’s not. It’s dissected books! And what a great way to make art out of something broken or ruined (because we wouldn’t use nice, new, books, right?!). But think of those books warped by water damage, or whose binds have broken or that are simply falling apart, (please avoid using valuable antique-y books…that would be a shame!) or westerns from the eighties that you have no earthy use for.

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I did not get close enough to see how this was attached but I can just envision that there is a strong circular rod in the middle and all you would have to do is drill a hole in your slice of book and stick it on the ring– so some power tools requires between a power saw and a drill. There may also be some glue involved. I wonder if this will work with a hanger!?

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If anyone out there has tried a similar project, please share! I may give it a go myself. I can imagine this might even be cool with magazine and catalogues. Stay tuned.

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Twelve Posts of Christmas–Ethical Gifting

I was recently listening to WBEZ, Chicago land’s Public Radio and heard someone throwing around the term “ethical gifting.” And it wasn’t in a story about ethical gifting, it was just casual conversation thrown about during an end of year donor drive. The speaker tossed this phrase around as if everyone should know what it was. Sheepishly, I admit it was the first time I had come across it. I thought, however, that I immediately understood the term.

When I went to research the term later, I realized that there really is no cohesive application or understanding of the term. Many seem to apply it to green-giving. Then there are those that apply it to practical or useful gifts, and those that use it for creative gifts, anything bought from small shops, particularly if those shops contain goods made by people in under-developed nations. I also saw it applied to gifting with a charitable aim, which sometimes meant buying something that gives some or all of proceeds to charity and sometimes it just meant giving to charity in someone’s name. However, the other thing that popped up quite frequently was ethical gifting in a business environment. At first, I brushed this off as the wrong kind of ethical gifting, but then I realized that this no-strings-attached type of gift giving corporations advocated should be a part of ethical giving, at least, my ethical giving.

So what is ethical gifting? I have concluded that it is different for everyone and that it essentially giving that reflects your values, which we often forget at this time of year in our panic to just buy things for people.  For me, ethical gifting is giving gifts that are immediately useful with a focus on recycling that will produce little to no waste. Yes, sometimes that means I make things, and sometimes they are actually really nice and sometimes my family is just really nice.  I like to support small shops, too–though that can be in direct conflict with getting the best deal on something.  But that is okay.  It is less important to me to be frugal in gift giving than it is to buy a gift that will be useful–and used.  This is a lot easier to justify when you are not buying a gift for every single relative.

For kids, my husband and I look for gifts that are educational,which to me takes precedent over Eco-friendly–though more and more, the two are compatible.  Still, we try not to add mindlessly with piles of toys pulled off box-store shelves. This is sometimes tricky because you want to buy them the fun, hot toy of the year.  The immediate satisfaction they will experience will probably be much greater than opening something useful and will catapult you to the top of the “best aunt and uncle in the world” list.   But then I remember the ethics of corporate gift giving.  My gifts are not to buy someone’s affections or to influence someone’s actions.  They are given being thoughful of both the gift-giver and gift-receiver.

Twelve Posts of Christmas–A Gift for Mother Earth

Not to repeat myself, but… Well, actually, I am fully intending to repeat myself because this is an important topic. I invite each and every one of you to be creative and to use your imagination to wrap gifts in recycled and reused items. As I just mentioned, I previously posted about this, but this is the time of year when we are particularly abusive and create garbage bag upon garbage bag full of stuff that will end up in the landfill. We can do better. I will admit, though, to having been previously very impressed by various family members’ matching presents wrapped in beautiful, shiny, thick wrapping paper. It looks so nice under the tree and everyone knows exactly who it came from. Very fancy.

However, I think you can make beautiful packages with just a little forethought and imagination–and maybe some planning throughout the year. For example, brown paper bags make excellent wrapping paper and a wonderful earthy background for those saved ribbons, scavenged twigs and berries, and home made gift tags. What other materials can you use for wrapping paper? How about old road maps that you haven’t thrown away yet even though you haven’t used them for more than seven years? Or, saved newspapers, park maps or large foldable brochures from an awesome vacation used it to wrap gifts for the people that went with you on that awesome vacation. And save colorful comics for the kids to wrap gifts. Using cloth and fabric to wrap gifts is a popular alternative, too, kind of hobo-chic. For other ideas, especially for creative decor, see these slides from Martha Stewart. Also, did you know that those poofy Christmas bows only look hard to make? Follow this link for step by step instructions. You will amaze yourself.

Now, if you’ve saved decorative boxes or bags, the work is almost all done for you! During this time of year, offices across the country are flooded with gifts that come in fancy boxes and bags. Lay claim to them, as well as all the ribbons and tins. If you don’t they will probably just end up in the trash–and that is what we are trying to avoid, people. You can also make your own boxes. The internet machine has loads and loads of ideas. You can use card stock, backs of notebook paper, the bottom of fancy paper bags from the mall, etc., as material for the boxes. Check out this link for tons of fabulous ideas using salvaged items to make your own boxes.

Yeah, even recycled wrapping will likely get thrown away, filling garbage bag upon garbage bag. Perhaps, a few suggestions? Save the gift bags and boxes for re-use next year, and fold the tissue paper to save for use throughout the year. Helpful hint: if you choose wrapping materials that can be used at other holidays and occasions, you can maximize their use, i.e., don’t get santa clause tissue paper. As to what you cannot re-use, which hopefully will be a smallish pile. Shred the paper and use as packing material or throw it in the compost pile. From what I learned in research for a previous article on paper re-cycling, wrapping paper can probably go into your local recycling program, though you need to do your research. For example, my county recycling, SWALCO,,will accept wrapping paper, but my local Chicago-area Paper Retriever will not.

I know, I know. My intentions to make every gift exchange I participate in zero-waste are impractical–especially at other people’s houses. I was, in fact, unsuccessful last year in swaying anyone to separate the paper wrapping from the ribbons and bows and plastic in order to recycle the paper and minimize the trash. We had a huge family Christmas and produced a lot of garbage that was frantically shoved in bags to try and keep order. However, on a personal level, I have not bought wrapping materials in more than three years. And I know that further change will not happen overnight. I slowly hope to influence my family members, one by one. Even the family member that proudly buys beautiful wrapping paper every year.

When I actually buy some present and wrap them, I will take photos to show you that presents using salvaged materials can be pretty!

Don’t leave home without them

Many of us work hard to be conscientious about the environment at home. We take a lot of steps to reduce our consumption and our waste. And to recycle and reuse. But something weird happens when we leave our little biodomes. Maybe it’s because we don’t buy the supplies at the office, or take out the trash at the Starbucks. Or maybe it’s because it’s inconvenient and extra work to care enough. Or, quite simply, we forgot. I am not casting stones. I do this constantly and get really irritated with myself for not having a re-usable cup handy at coffee shops and for using disposable items at the office. This is especially frustrating to me because I really do put a lot of effort into these things at home. I mean, I hand tear the mail and cereal boxes for the composter, for Pete’s sake.

What I have realized, though, is that it is all about small transitions. My habits are much more eco-conscientious today than they were last month. And I am light years from the neanderthal I was a year ago. ( Irony Alert: Neanderthals were actually, probably pretty eco-friendly. Really, I just mean I used to buy a lot of paper plates and stuff). So every once and again I try a new eco-thing and eventually it just becomes habit.It just becomes part of your routine. But let’s not forget what happens when we leave home.

Let’s start with work. Our office spaces don’t always make it convenient to be green. Paper cups –or horror of horrors, styrofoam cups–are usually readily available. Sometimes there is no storage for our ceramic or reusable mugs. Or there is no where to wash the mug from time to time. Also, there is often just no culture for it. But it can start with you. This is when you hear some inspirational song in your head, like from Rocky.

If you are in management, think about getting a set of office mugs with your company logo. Encourage your employees to use them. One sneaky trick: take a while to stock up the paper cups to force people to use the office mugs. Or, think of creative contests where people are rewarded for using mugs. Do the same thing with re-usable plastic drinking glasses to encourage people to use those for water. Yes. Some people will complain about washing their own cups. But we are adults and can probably handle this task. Laziness is not a good excuse for all that waste and cost.

If you are a mere employee, then let the change start with you. Make it a point to bring your own cup/mug. Start a dialogue with your colleagues. No one wants to admit they don’t care about the environment. It’s like admitting that they hate puppies or that they just punched grandma. Maybe once you have converted (or shamed) some people into joining your I-guess-I-don’t-want-dolphins-to-die-and-the-world-to-go-dark-and-cold club, then you can talk to management about implementing a mug culture. You can event back it up with facts–not necessarily about dolphins dying–but about cost savings and stuff.

For example, in my small office space of 20 or so employees, let’s assume 3/4 of the people use at least one disposable cup a day, so that is 15 cups per day, multiplied by 253 ( rough, rough calculation of days in the year, minus weekends, minus holidays). That is 3795 cups per year. My office puchases these 16 oz. “foam” cups from Quill, an office supply company, that cost around $55 per 1000 (if you buy by the case). So even by the most conservative estimates, my small office is spending over $200 a year just in cups. And that’s for the cheap cups. My old office of roughly the same number of people bought those paper cups with the weird bubbly skin on the outside. The cost of providing those for an office for one year is over $400. Throw in the cost of post-it notes and legal pads, the costs of sending mail by post, and the costs of printing memos and other documents. If you are a business person, you know that these things add up. Someone who did a lot more work than I did put together this fabulous and startling article about going paperless. And, here’s another article covering things from coffee filters to water usage at the office.

The office is just one place in which we forget our good habits. Getting a latte or water when you are out and about is another. Did you know that roughly 250,000 plastic bottles are dumped every hour and that plastic bottles constitute close to 50% of recyclable waste in the dumps. Even worse,
it takes an average of 700 years to decompose in a landfill. ( Read about those and other statistics here). Now, I have gotten pretty good about brining a re-fillable water bottle with me, but I am just horrible about remembering a mug for my chais and lattes, and occasionally, my chai lattes. I make lots of excuses for myself: My husband took them all, they were all dirty, it’s not as big as a tall or grande latte so it’s not that good of a deal. These are all excuses. The truth is that I just don’t think of it. But, once again, getting into the habit can mean keeping the habit. So I just have to start. You, too! In the meantime, you can read this cool, slightly snarky article that reveals a lot about this issue. The authors are a lot cooler than I will ever be–they live in Portland, after all–but my message is the same: “‘Switching to a reusable mug carries with it the perception that it’s inconvenient only because it is different than the norm. Change is scary … But once commuter mugs become the norm … it’s no big deal. ‘I mean, sometimes you’re going to be out and not have a mug with you, … but if you have one in your car/bike/office, it becomes part of your normal routine’.”

Pretty Petals–Ribbon Flower Tutorial

Here is a fun flower tutorial. In this style you cut out individual petals. The trick, though, is to use a lighter or flame to curl the petals. So you need to find a fabric that will basically melt instead of burn. I have found that many shiny ribbons will do work very well.

What you will need to start:

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A ribbon, a flame, scissors. You can use a candle like in the photo, but I honestly found more control with a lighter. The downside is that the sucker gets hot!

Cut your ribbon into pieces that you can then shape into rough petals. You can vary the size of your petals or leave them all the same…it’s really up to your own design aesthetic.

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Once you have all your petals roughly cut, hold them over the flame to melt the edges and get them to curl slightly. You will get a sense of how the fabric behaves after just a few petals. 20130531-204751.jpg

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Once you have amassed your petals, start constructing your flower. Again, I like to use a base of sturdy fabric to see the flower onto so that I have control of its shape. I prefer to sew, but there is no reason you couldn’t glue the thing if that is your preference–except that its messy and not as sturdy.

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Once you have sewn all your petals on, you can go back and fill in spots and manipulate the petals by holding a flame to them.

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Here’s another flower done in pink and organza ribbon. I attached a pin and clip to the back to make it wearable. 20130531-210024.jpg

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(These flower pins and others available for purchase at http://www.etsy.com/shop/LifeImproved)