Green Crafting: A Justifiable Means to an End?

plasticbottlecapmagnetsI love to reuse something old to make something new, especially if the item is heading for the trash or recycling bin. It’s the thrill of making something useful out of junk.

I’ve been practicing this type of crafting even before the term upcycling became a word. It’s still not a word in some dictionaries and spell check always yells at me when I type “upcycling” or “upcycle”.

When I was researching for my articles on PET bottles and non-recyclable plastic bottle caps, it made me wonder about upcycling. Actually, that’s not true– I’ve been thinking about the controversial ways people upcycle to make things, especially for profit, for many years.

My question is this:

Is upcycling an excusable practice if we abuse or ignore the “not-so-green” materials as a medium, all in the name of art and crafting?

How about using “eco-friendly” materials, like eco-felt or wool-felt or reusing plastic juice pouches or PET plastic bottles, thinking it’s OK to use, since they are eco-friendly, even though they originated from not-so-green resources?

Architect Gülnur Özdağlar has been producing cups, jewelery and home decoration accessories by recycling PET bottles since 2008. She collects, heats, cuts, drills, and shapes recyclable plastic bottles to make her art and accessories.

But is her art considered eco-friendly since she’s using up what’s already produced and the bottles that already served their purpose?

According to her website, Özdağlar’s aim is to,

“…obtain objects from things that have been discarded that are so beautiful, that we would want to wear or exhibit them, thus underlining the importance of “recycling” and encouraging it. In this way she provides her own personal answer to the problem of recycling. She believes that in the future there will be a plastic material that will not proceed from the cradle to the grave, but that will return to the cradle with no loss…”

She has all the right intentions and I applaud her for her methods in collecting bottles to create her art. But what if consumers feel complacent and are compelled to continue to buy plastic and not-so-green materials, thinking, “Oh, I can make a planter with the bottle” or “I can always make bags with this juice pouch so I don’t feel guilty buying them?”

Is that justifiable?

When there is a reconfiguration of one type of material, say, plastic, into what some might consider functional material, like plarn or eco-felt, I can’t help but to wonder if it’s justifiable to use plastic for the sake of upcycling.

In a previous post, Julie, clearly stated that she has no qualms on using eco-felt because you can’t find wool felt that was from humanely treated animals. And she does not feel guilty using synthetic (from plastic) felt because of that reason. Not only, is it economical, she feels good about not using synthetic materials that didn’t involve animals. She has valid points.

On the other hand, when weighing synthetic felt vs. wool felt, Becky firmly believes that “recycled wool is the way to go if you want to use felt. She also has a valid point.

How about plarn? Kelly posted a tutorial on how to make this type of yarn from disposable grocery bags that you can knit and crochet with. The single use plastic bags are notorious for ending up in the ocean and threatening marine life, so why not reuse them to make plarn, right? Makes total sense.

While all these options for green crafting are great tips, and given the options, we choose what is best for our needs and philosophy, but I wonder, what are we trying to convey by converting to a new material from the “evil” resource, as Julie implied.

There is a whole industry of reusing “evil” materials into “green” material: recycled cotton, bamboo, plarn, bags using juice pouch, pillows with eco-felt, etc. And the list goes on.

But shouldn’t we just NOT buy any plastic, chemically treated materials that result in environmental damage? Even if the end result is pretty or functional? I’d rather buy long lasting, natural, minimally processed materials to craft with, even if that means NOT crafting or upcycling, because truthfully speaking, what is the shelf life of a barrette made from eco-felt? Or a bag made from juice pouches?

We can make playground equipment with recycled plastic that will last much longer than any of the accessories that are made with recycled plastic.

I know given the choice, it’s always better to use recycled materials but we are talking crafting, not life saving surgery. We could chose NOT to craft using those materials, couldn’t we?

I’d rather NOT recycle, NOT upcycle, and NOT reuse, if the material I’m using is from the “evil” source to begin with. I’d rather REFUSE them all in the first place. Shouldn’t we? If we all decide not to use eco-felt, wouldn’t the industry not exist?

What do you think? Please share your thoughts.

[Image by Mapleb4, used under Creative Commons license. ]

Written by Karen Lee

Karen lives a simple, frugal, green life and shares her eco tips and news on ecokaren and is a co-founder of Green Sisterhood, a network of community of green women bloggers, making change. When she's not managing Green Sisterhood or blogging on ecokaren, she is a chauffeur to two greenagers, wife to an accidental recycler, master chef to hungry locavores, seamstress, knitter, and dumpster diver, not necessarily in that order.

2 Comments

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  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly about encouraging single-use plastics.

    We only have soda bottles on the rare occasion we have visitors, for the rest of the time we drink water and coffee.

    We carefully consider what we buy in terms of the packaging it comes in – it usually takes us three weeks to fill a garbage bag, simply because we minimise purchases with excess packaging, to the extent that we now eat only home-grown organic vegetables, and use a very small amount of dairy.

    Living in Africa, however, it makes sense to encourage unemployed people to upcycle for profit, to the extent that I would sooner buy an upcycled product than donate to a charity with hefty admin costs.

    I hand make bandanas and fabric wraps for gift-wrapping, and most of my gifts are home-made, and packaged in recycled glass jars. For gift hampers I weave baskets from our weekly freebie newspaper – we don’t buy newspapers anymore either.

    For a recent upcycling demonstration I was asked to present, I decided to make the pop bottle broom I saw on the internet. I had to beg my neighbours for pop bottles, they all think we’re weird because we never drink soda. Then again, they don’t understand why we look anorexic compared to them, if you get my drift.

    There are so many benefits in not buying prepackaged foods, how come EVERYONE doesn’t get it?

  2. P.S.

    I am morally opposed to using additional resources such as electricity and chemically based adhesives to “upcycle”.
    Plastic upcycling crafts should not be about utilising any addiditonal resources, rather, they should be crafted with minimal tools (making them accessible to all economic groups) without harmful emissions, many people are unaware of the dangers of burnong plastic.

    Just my penny’s worth…

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