With a focus on sustainability and the environment as one of Chatham University core mission initiatives, it only makes sense that there are students on campus who take it upon themselves to take part in recycling and repurposing. Shannon Ward, a senior at Chatham, helps contribute to the sustainability initiative by participating in upcycling, a unique way of repurposing recyclable items for entirely new purposes.
Shannon became involved with upcycling because of her family, who she says taught her about the value of reusing items as opposed to sending them to landfills. Because of her more environmentally focused upbringing, she said, “It just comes second nature to me to reinvent old things for new purposes instead of buying new items.”
This understanding of the reusability of items that are so often thrown away without a second thought led her to discover different ways of repurposing trash. During middle school, she became interested in the practice of upcycling, where useable and practical items are created from materials that have been discarded.
There are several ways in which you can get materials to upcycle, including simply looking to see what others throw away. “Even on Chatham’s ‘green’ campus, you’d be surprised to see how much nice, useable material gets thrown into the trash,” Shannon said. “People just don’t realize the potential for reuse and the damage that we do when we throw things away thoughtlessly.”
She also recommended searching through the items listed on the free section of Craigslist and a local non-profit, the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse. And as for gathering inspiration for projects and ideas of what to upcycle, she recommended browsing through Pinterest or Etsy for ideas.
All kinds of materials can be used in upcycling, such as pop tabs, old records, bike tires, wine bottles, floppy discs, and old ties. Shannon has made flower pots from outdated floppy discs, chainmail armor from repurposed pop tabs, a coat from old neckties, and all of her costumes for the annual Chatham Halloween Costume Contest have been entirely upcycled projects.
Upcycling is a creative and sustainable hobby that is worth getting involved with. Especially here at Chatham with our focus on sustainability and the environment, getting involved with upcycling is a rewarding way to help cut back on what we send to the landfill.
Shannon said, “Any art or project can be upcycled if people are just willing to rethink new purposes for existing items instead of always buying new.”