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The Resource

Keyword: upcycle

By Jeanette Garcia Polasky, Department of Public Works

Photo of people walking through a recycling facility

Baltimore County thanks you for recycling! In 2018, Baltimore County residents set out more than 52,500 tons of material for recycling. On America Recycles Day 2019, which was observed on November 15, the Bureau of Solid Waste Management asked residents to celebrate by doing one or more of the following:


By Jeanette Garcia Polasky, Department of Public Works

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans generate 25 percent more waste. Not only do our celebrations, decorations and gift giving create more trash, but they can cost a lot, too. That means now is a great time to find ways to save money and waste less, such as upcycling items you already own.

Artist Liz Burnett and five upcycle project participants.In November, artist Liz Burnett led several county employees and residents in a workshop to make holiday wreaths from old sheet music and broken jewelry. A MICA graduate, Liz is a versatile artist specializing in jewelry, crafts, murals, illustration, graphic design and photography. She sells upcycled jewelry and art through her business, Schlegel Bagel Design. She also offers classes on how to make one-of-a-kind creations out of things people have around the house.

While her first love is painting, Liz said two things inspired her to start making upcycled art. First, she cares deeply about the environment and wants to reuse as much material as possible rather than buying everything new. Second, she wants to save money. “I needed to make things without spending a lot of cash,” she said. “I liked the idea of reusing things destined for the dump that still had some life, and it was a challenge to make the most beautiful things for the least amount of money.”

When it comes to materials, Liz’s favorite to work with is broken kitchenware. “It has so many possibilities to be turned into something new,” she said. Her favorite piece is a necklace she made from broken Pyrex someone sent to her from New Zealand. “You can’t get the pattern here, and it’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s called, ‘Red Poppies,’ and the bowl was red with a dark purple flower print.”

The upcycle project.As for the upcycle workshop, none of the participants had attended one before, but it didn’t take them long to get the hang of it. In under an hour, each person created a unique paper wreath made with 95-year-old sheet music, beads and hot glue. You can see photos from the workshop and find step-by-step instructions for the paper cone wreath and paper flowers online.

Everyone said they learned something from the experience:

It never occurred to me that you could make something beautiful out of 95-year-old paper! – Sharon

You can take something old and make it new while having fun together as a group. – Ella

I especially liked learning to reuse paper, something we think of as immediately recyclable, creatively to make something that will last. – Natalie

This workshop was a wonderful reminder of how much more fun things can be when done as a group. The ladies of the old fashioned quilting bees had it right. – Kathleen

All of the participants said they’d attend upcycle workshops in the future, and they even offered up some waste prevention tips of their own:

  • Use reusable containers to carry your lunch instead of plastic food storage bags. Keep a recycling bin in more than one room in your house. – Natalie
  • Use items like old boots and buckets as planters. Take building fixtures, wood and other construction debris to The Loading Dock, which builds homes with the material. Make a Maryland-themed decoration from cleaned blue crab shells by painting them any way you like. They look great as beach décor or even a Christmas wreath or ornament. All it takes is a little imagination! – Sharon
  • Buy used Christmas ornaments at yard sales and thrift stores, or round up ones you already own, and upcycle them with craft supplies. Use plastic shopping bags to weave mats and rugs. – Ella
  • Purchase products in reusable packaging whenever possible. For example, I buy a brand of jams and jellies that come in a glass mug. Go against the grain of our modern “throw-away” society. Go old school in your thought process; back to basics. And learn to sew. – Kathleen

Do you have upcycle projects or waste prevention ideas you’d like to share? Send them to 

Follow Liz Burnett on Instagram at @schlegelbagelburnett. Find more holiday upcycle ideas on Pinterest. For waste prevention tips and strategies, follow Clean Green Baltimore County on Facebook or visit the County’s website.

Nov 2019
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Revised October 25, 2019