Remember learning the three R’s? Reduce, reuse, recycle. And who can forget the three green arrows symbol that became synonymous with our efforts to save the planet in the late 1970s.
Unfortunately, over the past four decades we’ve learned that our reliance on recycling just doesn’t cut it.
In the words of a Scientific American blogger: “Recycling plastic is to saving the Earth what hammering a nail is to halting a falling skyscraper.”
Environmental stewardship matters. We all need to do our part, but tossing those empty bottles and cans in the bin makes us feel like we’re doing our part more than we really are since most of that recycling ends up in the landfill anyway.
While all that sounds depressing, we often forget that recycling is only one of the three R’s! What about the other two?
Obviously reducing our consumption is the best place to start. Buying less means less trash. But, we and our pets need stuff to survive and thrive. So, if recycling isn’t the answer, and you’ve reduced your consumption as much as possible, what’s left?
Part of the third R, reuse, upcycling means taking something you’re finished with and turning it into something new. It keeps items out of the waste stream, and it allows you to express your creative side. There are endless ways to upcycle worn-out or used-up items around your home (just type “upcycle ideas” into Pinterest and be prepared to be blown away), and that includes your pet supplies!
Here are three upcycle ideas for your pet’s worn-out, outgrown, or used-up items:
Upcycled Dog Toys
Another sad reality: Most of the clothing you donate ends up in a landfill. It’s frustrating because you’re trying to keep those items from the trash by keeping them in circulation, but our consumption has been so much that there’s more discarded clothes than needed. If you have serviceable items that a homeless shelter needs (call and ask first), great! If not, here’s a quickie upcycle that you can do over and over again.
Cut worn-out or torn denim, fleece, cotton, or other sturdy fabric into two- or three-inch wide strips. (Avoid stretchy synthetic fibers and elastic socks.) Tie the ends of three strands together, then loop it around a door handle or ask a friend to hold the end. Braid to the bottom and tie off in a knot. The easiest upcycled tug toy around! And, as pieces tear or fray, you can simply un-braid and replace an individual strand.
You can upcycle nearly anything into a planter: tins of canned food, your dog’s old water dish, your puppy’s outgrown chew toys. Old plastic toys make such great planters, in fact, that you can purchase done-for-you options on Etsy! Instead, DIY your own without spending a dime. Select herbs that you use often and that grow well in your climate. Or, you can always pick easy-to-grow succulents and air plants. Just make sure to reference your plant choices against the ASPCA’s database of plants that are toxic to pets before making your selection.
Upcycled Dog Bed
If you have a sewing machine, you can upcycle anything! Even if you don’t have strong sewing skills, an upcycled dog bed is a simple DIY. Collect scrap fabrics--old linens work great for this--and sew two pieces together in a square or rectangle shape big enough for your dog to curl up and snooze on. Leave one side partially open so that you can stuff all your remaining fabric remnants in as the batting. If you’re a skilled seamstress, you could also sew a zipper into that hole so you can pull the materials out to replace or clean as needed. If you’re not as experienced, simply sew that hole shut and plan on tossing the entire thing in the washer when needed. The great thing about this project is that it can use any fabric scraps you have, whether it’s a set of used-up bath towels, your torn college hoodie, or a stash of stained fabric napkins. Plus, you can customize it to your dog’s preference--firm or soft, overstuffed or loose enough to allow for some “digging”--and size.
Finding new uses for old things keeps those items out of the landfills and reduces our need to purchase more stuff. Upcycling truly is the best way to recycle!