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This post was written by Get Artistic Artist-in-Residence, Abigail West.

“Is this recyclable? It has a recycling symbol on it!”

Ah, if only it were so simple.

Unfortunately, those little triangular recycling symbols on the bottom of plastic packaging don’t actually always tell you whether or not that product can go in the recycling bin—or if it can feasibly be recycled at all.

A lot of materials that seem like they should be able to be recycled are actually incredibly difficult to process post-consumer, for different reasons depending on the product. Some of these things, like plastic bags, other stretchy film plastics, and clean styrofoam, can be taken to the Athens CHaRM, or Center for Hard to Recycle Materials.

But what about everything else? Look around your home and you’re bound to find some hard-to-recycle materials that you can’t take to the CHaRM. Here are some I found in my own home:

  1. Woven polypropylene bird seed bag. While it has the number 7 on it, because of its form it cannot be recycled in our local markets. Like so many hard to recycle materials, it’s very durable and, in my opinion, beautiful!
  2. Chip bags and other similar snack packaging have long fascinated me. The one I had in my home doesn’t have the shiny foil liner, but it is still a mixed material, meaning it has layers of plastic, resin, and sometimes foil, that are very difficult to separate from one another. Off to the landfill with this one too…unless we can find another cool use for it?

For the last couple months, I’ve been experimenting with Creature Comforts’ hard to recycle brewery materials. With each batch of beer, they need grain and hops, which come in packaging surprisingly similar to what I found in my home kitchen.

With a little inventiveness and a lot of time, you could make all kinds of cool things out of any of the materials I’ve pictured so far. Next, I’ll guide you through how to make your own decorative streamers. These streamers would be a great way to be more mindful and reduce waste at your next celebration. Who doesn’t want handmade, zero waste decorations, that can be reused again?

STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE

Materials needed:

  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine and/or hot glue gun with sticks
  • Material to creatively reuse. Options include chip bags, animal feed bags, flexible packaging, or other hard to recycle material

Step 1. Select and prep your material. If you’re using something with a food residue, you’ll want to give it a good clean with a rag and some soapy water or diluted alcohol. I’m using the Yakima Chief hop bags, and opted not to clean them because the hops smell so good!

Step 2. Cut out a bunch of your desired shape! These could be circles, squares, triangles, flowers, anything you like. They don’t need to be perfectly uniform: imperfections remind us that these have been processed by hand, unlike the machines that mass-produced the original packaging.

Tip: experiment with shapes you like, and once you decide on one, fold over the material to cut through two layers at once.

Step 3. Start creating the streamers. I like using the sewing machine, feeding the pieces in one at a time. It feels like feeding coins into a slot machine. The sewn element also serves as further reminder that I’m making something by hand and not by automated machine.

If you don’t have access to a sewing machine, though, you can hot glue the pieces together, carefully overlapping each. Be sure to use enough glue that they stick, but not so much that it gets everywhere. Wipe away any hot glue spider web strands that form and you won’t be able to tell you used hot glue at all.

Step 4. Keep repeating over and over until the streamer is your desired length, and then make some more! Trust me, you’ll get faster as you go. Be open to experimentation: new shapes, bigger shapes, or different materials. The only way I find methods I like when working with reclaimed materials is by trying a lot of things that don’t work first.

Below are some shots of streamers made from hop bags and grain bags, using different shapes and sizes.

I can’t wait to see what you make from your own playful experimentations! Please share photos with us on Instagram and tag @creaturecomfortsbeer and @upinthewoods.

Note: for a full list of what can and can’t be recycled, be sure to check with your local recycling center. If you’re in Athens-Clarke County, you can find that here.