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Keeping waste out of landfill: 5 creatives transforming ‘trash’ into useful stuff

As someone who missed out on the ‘crafty’ gene, I’m always fascinated by people with the talent to create things. In particular, I’m in awe of those people with both the vision and the skill to take ‘waste’, and make it into something actually useful and practical.

What’s most impressive to me is when people are able to create things so good that people are willing to buy them. A demand for ‘new’ things made out of old things – the world definitely needs more of that.

I also think it’s very cool that people are able to make a living transforming waste.

There are a few such individuals and small businesses that I follow on social media. Now I’m not a buyer of things, particularly, but I find it very inspiring to watch others create, and make beautiful things from trash.

Here are a few of my favourites.

This post is in partnership with Etsy and contains affiliate links.

Tideline Art

Nicole is from London, UK, and makes art from the treasures she finds mudlarking, a term used to describe people who search the muddy shores of rivers looking for things of interest or value.

Being a mudlark along the River Thames was an actual job during the 18th/19th centuries, although not a particularly desirable one. Now it’s a hobby for people, who find all kinds of old bits and pieces that were thrown into the river and preserved in the mud.

There are plenty of people who mudlark and create art with their finds, but Nicole is one of my favourites. I just love the idea that Victorian trash now has value, and that others find it beautiful.

Plus, I love that Nicole always tries to find out the origins of the pieces she finds, and shares their stories.

Link to Tideline Art’s Etsy store.

Smartie Lids on the Beach

Michelle is from Cornwall, UK, and makes art from the plastic she finds at the beach. I’ve been following along on social media for a long time, and enjoy the combination of photographs of beach cleanups in action and the random things that wash up, as well as the later transformation into art pieces.

She’s probably best known for her amazing colour wheels, but also creates other fun items out of bits of plastic (her toothbrush fishes are one of my favourites), flower seed heads using nurdles, and other quirky pieces.

Link to Smartie on the Beach’s Etsy store.

Velo Culture

Run by Bev and based in Newcastle, UK, Velo Culture make wallets, belts, toiletries bags and phone cases out of old bicycle inner tubes. Upcycling at its finest.

I particularly love this because inner tubes are one of those unavoidable waste items, but still a really useful and usable material, even once they can no longer be used with bicycles.

Velo Culture have had more than 7,200 sales since launching their Etsy store. That’s a lot of inner tubes (and the occasional bike chain and break cable) repurposed.

Link to Velo Culture’s Etsy Shop.

Wyatt & Jack

Wyatt & Jack are based on the Isle of Wight (UK) and make bags, clothes and purses out of old bouncy castles, broken inflatables and beach toys and damaged deckchairs.

But even better than that, they started Inflatable Amnesty. If you have a broken inflatable or punctured paddling pool that’s beyond repair, you can send it into Wyatt & Jack, who will make it into new bags! They will even cover postage.

And as you might expect from quirky inflatables and brightly-coloured bouncy castles, the products they make are FUN!

I’ve been in love with these guys since forever. The combination of repurposing pretty-tricky-to-reuse items into something so useful – and fun! – well, there’s nothing better.

Link to Wyatt & Jack’s Etsy store.

One Fine Phoenix

This post wouldn’t be complete without including zero waste reusables, and my favourites will always be those using old materials (rather than new) for making their products. There are plenty of stores offering new versions, but finding reusables made from reused is the ultimate in zero waste, in my view.

Siobhan from One Fine Phoenix (based in New South Wales) only stocks products made with second-hand and vintage fabrics. She creates hankies, cleaning cloths, cutlery wraps, unpaper towel, make-up remover pads and the like.

One for those of us who don’t know how to sew. (Also, loving the DIY lemon vinegar props!)

Link to One Fine Phoenix’s Etsy store.

I’m constantly amazed by the things that people create out of ‘waste’ products. This list is hardly comprehensive (and if you have favourites I’d love to hear about them in the comments) but it goes to show that with a creative mind, people really can turn trash into treasure.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have the ‘crafty’ gene? What have you upcycled? Are there any cool projects and businesses you’ve found doing great stuff? Do you have one yourself? Anything else to add? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

5 Reasons to Choose Etsy for Ethical + Eco-Friendly Purchases

This post is in partnership with Etsy and contains affiliate links.

As a self-professed lover of less stuff, it’s not often you’ll find me talking about shopping. But I accept, we all need to buy some things sometimes.

I know that when I need to buy something, I want it to be the most ethical, sustainable, long-lasting and environmentally sound choice that’s available to me.

I’m guessing you do too.

Usually that means eschewing the big box stores, avoiding the high street chains and instead choosing second-hand or supporting the independent stores, small producers and local craftspeople.

But finding these businesses and people can be tricky. Plus if we live away from the big capital cities, our options can be limited. And that’s where Etsy comes in.

I wanted to talk a little bit about what Etsy is, who it’s for and why you might want to consider it if you’re someone passionate about living with less waste and more sustainably.

What is Etsy?

Etsy is an online marketplace that allows people to connect and buy (or sell) unique, handmade and/or vintage goods. Etsy’s core mission is to help artists and crafters make a living. It’s a platform that makes it easy for sellers to sell and buyers to buy, but it’s more than just a selling platform.

It’s about connecting people.

It’s possible for sellers to post updates and share messages, and buyers to leave feedback (and photographs) – which gives it a really human, community feel and makes buyers feel connected to the people who make the items.

Who is Etsy for?

When I’m giving talks about living with less waste I often say, there are two types of people in the world. Those that know how to make things, and those that do not know how to make things.

Etsy is the bridge that connects us.

No-one has the time, patience and will to learn how to make everything. For those things we can’t make ourselves, we generally need to buy them. Whenever people ask me where they can buy reusable produce bags, beeswax wraps (or their vegan wax wrap equivalents) and natural skincare products (including zero waste make-up) I always suggest looking on Etsy.

The people who sell on Etsy range from those who make a full-time income from it, to hobbyists who are able to sell their creations to fund their craft.

5 Reasons Why Etsy is a Good Choice for Eco-Friendly and Ethical Purchases

Let’s be clear. I’m not encouraging anyone to buy stuff they don’t need. But when we do need to buy things, Etsy is a good option. Here’s why.

1. It’s the opposite of mass-produced.

Mass production tends to go hand-in-hand with corporate capitalism, where things are made as cheap as possible through externalising the costs. What that means is, companies exploit the land, create pollution and underpay workers so customers can buy things cheaply.

And most of this mass produced stuff isn’t made to last, because these companies need customers coming back and buying more stuff.

Etsy, on the other hand, champions producers who offer handmade goods, or produce things in small batches. One person or even a small-scale workshop simply can’t pump out huge volumes of stuff. And so there is an emphasis on unique, personalised, customisable, well-made and thoughtfully produced items.

2. You’re supporting real people to make a living (and receive a fair reward for their work).

Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘when you buy from a small independent business, a real person does a happy dance’? I always hold this thought with me when buying from a small business, local maker or skilled artisan.

It gives me a deep sense of satisfaction to know the names of the people who make my things (like Claire from Etsy store Small World Dreams, who made my bag, and lives right here in WA).

It’s more than just money – it’s belief in someone else’s work and a coming together of shared values. For example, Etsy currently has 36,882 results for ‘zero waste‘. Buying a product from a zero waste seller isn’t just parting with your cash, it’s reaffirming to the sellers that we care about these issues too.

You’re keeping useful skills alive (and maybe even encouraging more people to embrace them).

I don’t know how to sew, embroider, weave, turn wood, paint, blow glass or build things that don’t fall apart. But other people do, and Etsy has provided a platform for them to share their skills and work with the world.

Before platforms like Etsy existed, it was difficult for sellers to reach people who wanted what they had, and time-consuming to attend markets. Now, Etsy has made it possible (and easy) for sellers to connect with buyers, which means creators can spend more time doing what they love – creating.

It also means that more people can become creators. The only barrier is actually having a skill to share. Make soap? Create art? Upcycle clothing? Restore furniture? There’s a space on Etsy for you.

4. You can ask questions and make your preferences known.

Of course it’s no guarantee that everything on Etsy is produced ethically from sustainable materials and shipped in recycled packaging. But when you’re dealing with a creator directly, you can ask the questions.

Where do they source their materials? Do they make the products by hand themselves? Who else works in the business? Will they ship without packaging? Do they avoid using plastic?

It’s a lot easier for a creator to be transparent than it is for a faceless customer service representative at a big box store – who likely has no idea about the buying and procurement procedures for the company at which they work.

Plus, when you’re dealing directly with the creator, you have the opportunity to ask for exactly what you want. Looking for a different colour, or have a slightly different design in mind? Ask!

There’s never a guarantee but many Etsy sellers offer custom orders, so you can make sure the thing you buy is exactly what you want. Which is the best way to ensure the things we buy are things we use often.

5. You can find upcycled, reclaimed, recycled and second-hand.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that creators and sellers on Etsy only work with brand new materials. Not at all! If there’s something that you’re looking for, I’d always recommend looking to see if someone has made it out of already existing materials first.

There are so many great small businesses creating useful products out of what others might see as waste, be it metals, wood, fabric and even packaging. (There isn’t space to list them here, but I think it might make a good post for another time.)

Also, Etsy is a platform for vintage goods – which is really a fancy way of saying second-hand. If you’re the kind of person who loves old, but rarely finds cool old stuff in the charity shop yourself, Etsy is a great place to track down second-hand things.

I prefer to save the trawling through auction houses and antiques stores for the people who really love to do it, and have an eye for useful things. I think it’s cool that rather than languishing on a dusty shelf in a sleepy town in an old second-hand store, Etsy makes it easier to give these things new life and keep them in circulation.

You can find out more about Etsy here.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you used Etsy before and what was your experience? Are you a creator who sells things on Etsy? Have you found any awesome vintage or upcycled finds? Any zero waste or sustainability-focussed sellers to recommend? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!