Upcycling trumps recycling every time

Leaside Literatti

Trace Manes garbage.

I like to think I lead a fairly consciously eco-friendly, small-footprint life.
I removed all the grass in my front and back yards and replaced it with perennials as I didn’t like the idea of wasting costly Toronto drinking water to keep the grass green. I recycle and compost the best I can. I’ve made pillow covers out of sentimental t-shirts my son has outgrown. I use old holey socks as dusters. I repair whatever I can, including clothes, shoes and household items (yay for Gorilla Glue). I recover furniture with old bedding. I shop at the Thorncliffe Park Salvation Army Thrift store – why pay $25 for a Bodum French press coffeemaker when you can find one there for $3? I’ve upcycled curbside street finds like wicker chairs and outdoor furniture with a fresh coat of paint. I’ve always got a donation bag going for things I no longer wear or use. And I use cloth bags for groceries, reusable mugs for coffee/tea/water and I reuse gift cards and bags.

So, when I saw a “Zero Waste Kit Breakdown” seminar featured at the Leaside Library, I was intrigued. “Learn about everyday items and tips that help minimize trash! The goal is to minimize trash wherever possible while keeping it simple for everyday use.” How could I resist?

As I arrived I was offered a cup of Refreshing Scrappy Fruit Tea made from strawberry tops, peach and plum pits, kiwi skins, orange/lemon/lime/mango peels and ginger and courtesy of Sophi, who covered the scraps with boiling water and steeped for two hours. Yummy and sugar free.

Next, people began introducing themselves. One woman said, “I reuse gift wrapping paper by ironing it. My sister says I’m cheap.” That got a good laugh. One woman carries her own bamboo straw. Another makes her dogs food from leftover food scraps. “He really likes it!” she said. Some grew their own vegetables. And there were a surprising number of “ploggers”.

Then Sophi offered her tips. “No need for anything fancy,” she started. “You likely already have these items in your own home.” She began with the simple Mason jar. Yes, I do use them for storage in my own home. But I was inspired when she told us that she keeps one in her purse and uses it for takeout food, as a doggy bag and for takeaway food scraps. Hmmm… I can give that I try but I’ll likely have to change to a larger purse! Next, she took out a box of linen napkins and passed them around. We learned how to roll up items and make a handle for carrying. “Next time you go for a bagel, ask them to skip the waxed paper and bag and roll it up in your napkin,” she suggested. I don’t think I’m there yet.

Her takeaways?

-Avoid single use plastic items such as grocery bags, straws, cutlery and containers and replace them with sustainable items, or worst case, reuse them.
-If you need something, go second hand first.
-Recycle whenever you can.
-Upcycling trumps recycling. She teaches a workshop on how to make a cloth bag from old t-shirts without sewing.

The lesson here is that we can all do something, no matter how small, and in the end, if everyone does something small, it will yield big results.

About Cheryl Vanderburg 43 Articles
Cheryl Vanderburg writes the monthly column "Leaside Litterati." She is a local 'plogger' who combines her love of walking with picking up litter. She hopes to inspire all Leasiders to join this newest craze to stay fit and keep our neighborhood green and clean.