Last week, Earth911 started its Ultimate Reuse Challenge, calling on staff members to come up with creative uses for everyday plastic items.
Over the the course of three weeks, we will feature the top 11 designs.
Readers can then vote for their favorite design, and the winner will get a donation to his or her favorite charity.
Check out last week’s projects made from CD cases, candy wrappers and milk jugs.
Here are this week’s projects:
Yoga mat wall decals
Jennifer Berry – Manager of Public and Strategic Relations
Made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), yoga mats are harder to recycle and often donated or reused in different spaces, making them the perfect material for this challenge.
“At first I was excited about choosing yoga mats because I thought it was a very interesting and versatile material,” Jennifer says.
However, when she started researching ideas, Jennifer was disappointed in the lack of variety of reuse ideas and her own inability to come up with something creative…at first.
“Most of the reuse ideas that have to do with yoga mats simply involve cutting in sections and placing on a flat surface, such as placemats for eating,” she explains.
Her inspiration for her wall decals came from an artist’s usage of the material as stencil for a painting.
“I liked the idea of cutting out shapes,” Jennifer says. “Then I thought about how popular wall decals have become lately, but I think they’re overpriced.”
“I really like birds. So, I decided that I would find bird silhouettes to trace. I also like the idea of taking something that is normally on the floor and putting it on your wall,” she adds.
What you’ll need: One yoga mat, X-acto knife (but scissors will work also), permanent marker, 3M poster adhesive, printed images
How to make it:
Step 1: Search for simple images with minimal detail, as these will be easier to trace. Scale images to appropriate size, print and cut out to make stencils.
Step 2: Trace outline of image onto the yoga mat using the marker. Jennifer traced her images in a way to use the least amount of mat as possible in order to get the most out of the material. For example, start tracing on the edges and work your way in. Repeat this process and try a few shapes and perspectives.
Step 3: Apply adhesive. Jennifer recommends 3M sticky tabs. Clear thumb tacks may work as well, depending on what you feel comfortable with putting on your wall.
Jennifer’s bonus tip: Trace on the back of the mat so that the black marker doesn’t show up on the final decal.
Jennifer’s initial idea was to strategically use one yoga mat for as many purposes as possible. So with her leftover material, Jennifer cut it into squares to be used as crate liner that could be donated to a local animal shelter.
Plastic bag kite
Tony Ash – Director of Operations
Plastic bags are commonly not accepted in curbside programs due to their light weight. However, their durability and ability to hold up to 2,000 times their own weight make them ideal for projects.
“There are plenty creative reuse ideas for plastic bags, involving turning them into a type of fabric either by weaving or using a heat source to laminate them,” Tony says. “However, I lack sewing skills and didn’t have time to weave, so I did something a little different.”
What you’ll need: One plastic bag, scissors, packaging tape, roll of string or twine, one paper clip, two sticks cut to fit
How to make it:
Step 1: Fold the plastic bag in half. Be sure it is flat and even.
Step 2: Cut out your kite shape: Start by drawing your cut lines. Cut off the bottom of the bag as closely to the base as possible. Cut the bag as far to the folded end as possible, from the base to the center of the plastic bag. Lastly, cut the slanting line up towards the handles. Set aside the remnants to be used as the tail later.
Step 3: Cut a stick to the length (top to bottom) of the kite. Tape the stick vertically on the center line of the kite. Start with the top end and make sure the tape folds over the top and onto the front side of the kite. This will ensure durability during crashes.
Step 4: Pull the bag tight by stretching the plastic. Tape the bottom part of the stick to the bottom of the kite.
Step 5: Cut a second stick that’s long enough to bend a little to make a bow (it works best to use a fresh-cut twig). Tape stick horizontally. Start with the left corner, bend it carefully to make a bow and tape it tightly to the right corner.
Step 6: Make the bridle: Cut a piece of string 12-16 inches in length (about 1/3 longer than the length of the kite).
Step 7: Use paperclip to make two holes on either side of the stick near the bottom of the kite. Make two more holes at the intersection of the sticks near the top of the kite – one in the upper left, the other in the lower right.
Step 8: Feed bottom part of the string through the two holes in the bottom using the paperclip and tie into a square knot. Make a knot with a hole in the bridle on the same level as the intersection of the sticks.
Step 9: Check the alignment by pulling the string to one side to see if the knot is next to (not above or below) the intersection. This is critical in maintaining proper balance for a sustained flight.
Tony’s bonus tip: For night flight, attach a blinking LED light.
Bottle cap abacus
Larry Cummings – Director of Recycling Program Services
Just by physical touch, you can tell the texture of most plastic bottle caps is different from their bottle counterpart. This is because the caps are made from a different resin – plastic #5.
Recycling seems like a good option, but did you know that many cities don’t accept caps for recycling?
“Actually I was excited about getting assigned bottle caps because I thought that it was a good shape, and you can do lots of things,” Larry says. “It’s a round, plastic, malleable, cutable thing. Perfect for so many projects.”
Larry called on his 6-year-old son, David, his wife Laura and his neighbors to collect as many bottle caps as possible. He then brought the caps to work, dumped them on his desk and started brainstorming.
“The shape of the caps reminded me of an abacus,” Larry explains. “I have always been fascinated by counting machines, and I work a lot with numbers here at work.”
Larry sketched his design and headed to the hardware store with his son. He says the drawing was more elaborate than the actual outcome, but he is more than happy with his project.
The written directions can get a little confusing, so Larry made a short film to sketch the steps of how he built the abacus, but we also added some helpful notes to get you started.
What you’ll need: 70 bottle caps, two 4-foot 1 x 2 slices of trim lumber, wooden dowel, gorilla wood glue, rubber gloves, table saw, drill, workbench with a clamp
How to make it:
Editor’s note: See video for more information on dimensions as well as helpful hints for construction.
Step 1: Measure wood for cutting. Determine your preferred space between each plastic cap. This will determine where your dowels will be placed.
Step 2: Cut the ends off of the lumber, and cut three pieces of wood that same length.
Step 3: For what will become the middle piece, find the center line (the vertical center of the board). Pencil tick marks down the center line, about every inch-and-a-half.
Step 4: Drill holes at the intersections. You should end up with 10 3/8-inch holes down the center of the board. Now, you can measure the next two board the same way by stacking them on top of each other.
Step 5: You should now have a sandwich of materials. Measure the height of the caps. Cut 10 5-inch-tall dowels out of your 4-foot dowel.
Step 6: Larry initially tried drilling holes into the caps, but he doesn’t recommend doing this as the material is flimsy. Instead, use a box cutter to carve out the holes, cutting all the way to the ring of the cap.
Step 7: Assemble your caps onto the dowels. Fill the holes with glue (be sure to only use a small amount of glue to avoid overflowing) and insert the dowels into the holes. When completing each side, let the glue dry for about 10 minutes before flipping it over. Repeat process for other end of the abacus. You will now have two pieces that you can now glue together.
Step 8: Clamp the completed abacus and let sit overnight.
Larry’s bonus tip: Wear rubber gloves as the glue will get everywhere.
Stay tuned next week for the third and final part of our challenge. The staff will be reusing plastic drink straws, detergent bottles and foam peanuts.
Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. The American Chemistry Council is one of these partners.