July 10, 2015 Doing A Bit Better

UpCycling 101 – What Is It?

“A term that’s popping up more and more in the green world is “upcycling”. But what is it, and who does it benefit?  More importantly, who’s leading this movement and what are they doing?

Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials into something that’s usable and “new”. It’s like recycling but not in the sense of turning glass bottles back into glass bottles.  It’s more like turning old soda cans into jewelry, or old barn wood into a coffee table.  While people have been upcycling for years, the movement has lately grown – it’s no longer just for the hardcore DIY’ers – in fact, anyone can do it.

Instead of ending up in a landfill or being processed through a recycling center (which does waste energy and water), our waste products gain new life through upcycling at home. These projects make great gifts, and are sold through various outlets such as Etsy.

Alchemy Goods is another leader in the space of upcycling, and produces messenger bags, wallets and totes using old tarps, banners, seatbelts and tire tubing.

Another company, Terracycle, has made its sole purpose to upcycle all of those things that can’t necessarily be recycled or are difficult to recycle (such as Capri Sun packages). Their products are made from crowd-sourced materials and donors are credited for future purchases.

These aren’t the only games in town, and you should certainly explore some home-friendly upcycling crafts on your own or with your family! It’s one more way that you can do a bit better!

 

 “

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Health & Beauty

Caring about Personal Care

“Let’s face it – when the latest mascara or lipstick commercial comes on, we generally think “that product will/won’t work... Read

“Let’s face it – when the latest mascara or lipstick commercial comes on, we generally think “that product will/won’t work on me”. We’re probably not thinking “I wonder if there’s any lead in that”. Sadly, though, there probably is. And sadly, millions of us will apply that lead to our lips every day.

The FDA currently regulates things such as Drugs, Food, Water, and even some electronics. Cosmetics, unfortunately, are out of the FDA’s jurisdiction, and therefore, regulated by someone else: The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Committee. While there is one representative on the committee from the FDA, the FDA has little-to-no say as a result.

So how do we find some miracle compounds that will beautify us 100% naturally and organically? Chances are even the “safe” products will contain at least one chemical considered harmful to the human body, and generally in micro-doses.   Here are a few of the baddies we recommend steering clear of if possible:

Parabens – These are preservatives found in almost all Americans surveyed by the Center for Disease Control. It has been linked to breast cancer, developmental disorders, and reproductive disorders. Keep an eye out for propyl, isopropyl, butyl, and isobutyl.  They’re often found in shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, and scariest of all, personal lubricants.  Yikes.

Phthalates – Yup, just like your water bottles. Many nail polishes and detergents include these cancer-causing chemicals, and most things that simply list “fragrance” as an ingredient include them as well.

Tricolosan – This is a popular microbial pesticide, which is harmful to the thyroid function as well as reproductive hormones. Often found in hand soaps and cleaning products.

Oxybenzone – This little guy disrupts hormones and has been attributed to low birth-weight in newborns.

Formaldehyde – Sounds like a no-brainer, right? If you use hair-straightening products, there’s a good chance you’re spraying this on your head. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, it’s a carcinogen.

Hey, we’re not saying you should throw your makeup bag out. It would be virtually impossible to avoid everything, every day. Start by looking out for the list above. If you can’t seem to find a better alternative in your local stores, try looking online.  There are several beauty retailers whose sole focus is to provide the best products that are the best for you and your family.”

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Solar

Maryland comes out on top!

The Ecotech Institute recently released the very first “Clean Jobs Index” (there are over 3,000,000 jobs across the county!). Something... Read

The Ecotech Institute recently released the very first “Clean Jobs Index” (there are over 3,000,000 jobs across the county!). Something that we are really interested over here at Doing a Bit Better are LEED Projects. For those who need some catching up, LEED Projects stand for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Projects. This could be anything from a building installing solar panels, to conserving water in the work place. And you all know how we feel about solar (it’s the future!). We would like to congratulate Maryland for coming out on top as the state who has the highest number of LEED projects per capita! Way to go, we hope the other 49 states follow your lead–no pun intended. To read about other states rankings, click here.

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Recycle

Monday Tip of the Week – Electronics Recycling

Recycling isn’t just about plastics, glass and paper. Some of the biggest potential hazards to the environment are electronics that... Read

Recycling isn’t just about plastics, glass and paper. Some of the biggest potential hazards to the environment are electronics that end up in landfills. Those old computers, monitors, or cell phones can contain toxic chemicals and pollutants. The good news is that when you upgrade, it’s easy to recycle! Use this handy tool at greenergadgets.org to search by zip code for places you can safely recycle those old devices.

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Housewares

Remodeling Your Home?

“If you are looking to do any home remodeling this year, do yourself (and the planet) a favor and opt... Read

“If you are looking to do any home remodeling this year, do yourself (and the planet) a favor and opt for a few green upgrades.  Now, we’re not saying you need to tear down your house and rebuild it to be Leed Certified.  But there are a few choices you can make to add value to your home and to Do A bit Better for Mother Nature.

Seal It Up
One of the biggest wastes of energy comes from window & door drafts.  Sealing off these leaks can reduce your energy usage & costs by anywhere from 5 to 30 percent!  Solutions vary – some small leaks may be solved simply by adding weather stripping or caulk, but more extensive jobs may require repairing or replacing windows & doors

Look for the Energy Star logo
Appliances are going to be one of the bigger expenses on a remodel list, so if you are going to invest in them, make sure to purchase Energy Star certified models.  The certification, managed by the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy, helps consumers take the guesswork out of finding an appliance that is highly efficient (read: saves you cash) and also good for the environment. Plus, with over 18,000 certified products across 35 different categories, you won’t have to go searching high & low to find one that fits your budget & style.

Low Flow
We’re not going to bore you with facts about how much water is wasted each year from showers & toilets in the US.  So just know that low flow toilets and showers are a great way to save money and cut down on water waste.  For your porcelain throne, look for 1.6 Gallons/flush and 2 button flush option.  And for the shower heads, look for options with volume dials or buttons – in doing so, you can save up to 70% each time you bathe.

Lay Down the Bamboo
Bamboo’s not just for red ceramic pots with gold Chinese characters anymore! If you are going to do some more extensive remodeling and start replacing your floors, bamboo is a great choice.  First and foremost, bamboo is a highly sustainable product, so you don’t have to feel like you are chopping down the rainforest to freshen up your living room.  Secondly, they look great and are available in a wide range of sizes & colors.  Lastly, carbonized bamboo is hard and durable, so you’ll worry less about scratches when you put your furniture back in place.”

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Environment

Buy Local Products

The farther that a product has to be shipped to a store for a customer, the more gasoline has to... Read

The farther that a product has to be shipped to a store for a customer, the more gasoline has to be used to get the product there. As we know, gasoline is detrimental to the environment and is the reason for many of the problems we face with our environment today. So how can we reduce these fossil fuels? It’s simple, support locally grown products! This will not only help out your economy, but it will also reduce the distance to be travelled to transport products. Less distance traveled equals less fossil fuels being used. Less fossil fuels being used equals happy planet!

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Housewares

Recycled Glass Votive- Green

$5.00

Handcut from reclaimed wine cooler bottles, these charming votive candleholders are ideal for wherever you want to add the sparkle... Read

Handcut from reclaimed wine cooler bottles, these charming votive candleholders are ideal for wherever you want to add the sparkle of candle light, also they’re perfect to hold candies, dips, salad toppings or more.

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Family

Turn Off the Water, Buy Yourself Dinner

“Did you know that according to the California Energy Commission, about 75% of the water used in the average home... Read

“Did you know that according to the California Energy Commission, about 75% of the water used in the average home is in the bathroom?  Leaving the water running while we brush our teeth or wash our faces only increases this number. It can be a tough habit to break, but putting a price-tag may aid you in getting your family to change their habits.

Turning off the tap while brushing your teeth in the morning and at night saves a whopping 8 gallons of water each day, according to the EPA. If each member of a family of four nixed the water-running habit, you’d save about $13.75 per person or $55 each month.

That savings can buy your family dinner at your favorite restaurant.”

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Housewares

Corks, Pas Deux – Bourbon-cork Coaster / Trivet

“After our last article about crafts for reusing corks, we couldn’t help but get excited to try something. We opted... Read

“After our last article about crafts for reusing corks, we couldn’t help but get excited to try something. We opted for bourbon corks, this time, as they’re usually made of real cork (instead of that synthetic stuff), and have the neat wooden tops that give them a real rustic look. It also helped that we had a few laying around.

We also opted for ease, in this case. There are plenty of materials to use if you want to avoid using any sort of bonding agent – but thanks to the magic of a hot glue gun, we were able to whip this coaster up in about 10 minutes. And it shows.

What You’ll Need
9 Corks of the same height
A hot-glue gun
hot-glue sticks
Right-angle
Jute twine (optional)

Steps
1. Using the right angle, glue the first two corks together.  If there’s a label on top of the wood, hopefully you’ll do a better job of lining them up than we did.  Continuing to use the straight edge to make clean lines, add additional corks one by one until you’ve created the desired shape.  Allow the glue to fully cool/dry before picking it back up.

2. Once all 9 corks are glued together, flip the coaster over and bind with jute twine. To do this, simply glue the end of the jute twine to center of one side of the coaster, and begin wrapping around the cork portion, alternating gluing on every other side.

Easy enough! Now you can enjoy a frosty beverage in style.

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Environment

Monday Tip of the Week: Get yourself an old fashioned rain barrel

“This weekend, we saw our first rain of the season–and it was a big reminder of all the great uses... Read

“This weekend, we saw our first rain of the season–and it was a big reminder of all the great uses for rain water. Rain water is great to use to keep your garden growing and healthy, why? Because rain water does not have any of the additives found in tap water. It’s also great for your wallet–last we checked, rain water was free!

Learn how to install your rain barrel with this handy step by step, here.

 “

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Doing A Bit Better

Setting the Bar – Eco-Friendly Beauty Spas

Here at DabB we love to uncover environmentally-friendly, green places of business and you’ll be happy to know that you... Read

Here at DabB we love to uncover environmentally-friendly, green places of business and you’ll be happy to know that you can even be papered in an organic and natural way!  In Morristown, New Jersey lives such a place called “Salon Botanique Eco-Chic.”   This salon is New Jersey’s premier Natural and Organic Salon and Spa.  “Botanique” is the French word for “botanical,” and inspires them to use the finest natural and organic products from all over the world.

Not only are the products used here 100% organic, but the entire building has been redesigned with a customized water purification system using low VOC paints and flooring made of bamboo with most of the furniture from reclaimed and recycled wood. Additionally, all the spa robes and sheets are 100% organic cotton.

Check them out. Getting pampered never felt so right and good for the environment!

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Food

Don’t Throw That Out!

“Gourmet foodie or mac-n-cheese bachelor, we all despise cleaning out the fridge. It’s frustrating – and not-to-mention wasteful – to... Read

“Gourmet foodie or mac-n-cheese bachelor, we all despise cleaning out the fridge. It’s frustrating – and not-to-mention wasteful – to throw out everything it feels like we just bought.  Here are some ways to keep food more fresh.

Fresh Herbs
If you’re like us, you’ve probably bought a big bunch of parsley, used a little, and threw the rest back in the bag in the fridge. After a day or two, the parsley starts wilting and not before too long, it’s not worth using anymore. To keep fresh herbs useable for about a week, store the stems in a short glass in about 2” of water and cover with cheesecloth or a plastic storage bag. This will help the plants stay hydrated and humid, and will double the shelf-life of your herbs.

Eggs
True egg lovers despise that funky taste old eggs start to get after a while. Much like your box of baking soda, eggs absorb flavors in your fridge. Who wants that smelly-fridge flavor in their Denver omelet? Instead of keeping your eggs at the bottom of the fridge, keep them out! Eggs stay fresh for up to 2 weeks without being refrigerated – in fact, they’re sold on the shelf in the U.K., not the refrigerated section. You can test the freshness of your egg by gently placing it in a glass of lukewarm water. If it sinks, it’s still fresh.

Potatoes
Many people have taken to throwing out their potatoes after losing firmness or once they begin sprouting.  While this is unnecessary and wasteful, there are ways to cut down on these phenomena. Store apples in a dark place, like in a cupboard. In fact, if you store your potatoes and apples together, the apples will help slow the sprouting of the potatoes

Carrots
While it takes a while for fresh carrots to go bad (i.e. soften, mold, etc), they can quickly become hard and knobby. Unless you plan to use them right away, try to buy carrots with the leaves still attached. Much like fruits, the carrot will stay fresher longer. If not using the carrots right away, put them in a tall glass full of wet sand. Add a few tablespoons of water about halfway through the week to keep the carrots fresh and tender.

Spices
Some spices, after a while, pick up moisture from the air and begin to clump together and harden. This is common in especially warm kitchens – but doesn’t have to be! Cut a 6×6 inch square of a fine-mesh cheesecloth or other porous fabric. Place a tablespoon of dry rice in the center of the square, and bunch up the four corners, forming a small satchel. Tie off with string or a twist-tie, and put in the top of your spice jar. The rice will absorb moisture, keeping your spices fresh and dry.

Follow these tips, and food will stay fresher and flavorful for longer! It will save you money, cut down on food waste, and help you Do A bit Better every day!”

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Family

DIY “UpCycled” Crayons

“Here’s a fun one for the whole family. What do you do with those boxes of old, heavily used (but... Read

“Here’s a fun one for the whole family.

What do you do with those boxes of old, heavily used (but loved) crayons?  You turn them into a DYI project with the kids!  They can be melted down and turned into great recycled, different shaped writers that your young and older children can both enjoy.

Here’s what you need:

  1. Kitchen knife
  2. Old crayons
  3. Mini –cake or muffin tins (cute heart or various shapes are fun!)

Directions:

  1. Parents use the knife to chop crayons in to pea-size pieces. Have the kids help remove any remaining paper.
  2. Preheat oven to 150 degrees
  3. Have children fill tins with crayon pieces, mixing colors to make cool designs.
  4. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or just until the wax has melted
  5. Remove the shaped crayons after they have cooled.  If they stick to the tray, place in the freezer for an hour and they will pop out.

Tip:  If you don’t want to devote your tins to the melted wax, line them with tin foil

Now you and your kids can color away!”

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Housewares

DoingABitBetter – More Tweets for your Tuesday

“Since our last post about Green Twitter Accounts, we’ve encountered even more great tweets that we’re sure you’ll love. @acmepartybox... Read

“Since our last post about Green Twitter Accounts, we’ve encountered even more great tweets that we’re sure you’ll love.

@acmepartybox – Green party favors and supplies (because those kids parties mean a LOT of trash!)
@CAGW – “”Crafting a Green World”” for all sorts of neat tips on green DIY & crafts
@AllOrganicGirl – Natural/Organic living news & advice
@BeingContent – ethical & organic beauty news, product recommendations, tips
@AptTherapyGreen – Apartment Therapy’s green team takes on sustainability in small spaces

And as if it needs saying, follow us! @DoingAbitBetter.”

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Housewares

Monday Tip of the Week – Coffee to Go, Please!

If you start every morning with a steamy cup, a quick tabulation can show you that the waste is piling... Read

If you start every morning with a steamy cup, a quick tabulation can show you that the waste is piling up. Invest in a reusable cup, which not only cuts down on waste, but keeps your beverage hot for a much longer time. Most coffee shops will happily fill your own cup, and many even offer you a discount in exchange!  Not to mention, they look nicer.

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Solar

Luminalt’s Response to “10 Questions to Ask Your Solar Installer”

“ Last month, we posted our top 10 questions you should ask your Solar Installer when you start the hunt... Read


Last month, we posted our top 10 questions you should ask your Solar Installer when you start the hunt for quality solar installation in your area.  Luminalt Solar Energy Solutions, a San Francisco based Solar Installer, took the liberty of answering all of our questions with the utmost detail!  Here are their responses:

Q:  How long has your company been installing solar electric systems?
A:  Luminalt was founded in 2004, but co-founder Noel Cotter did his first installation in 1980.

Q:  How many of your employees have solar panels on their homes?
A:  How many of your employees have solar panels on their homes? As a local company, most of us live in San Francisco and rent, meaning that solar won’t work for us (or rather, our landlords). Most of us who do own have a solar system – installed by Luminalt, of course!

Q:  How many NABCEP certified employees work for your company?
A:  A whole bunch of them! More than one-third of our company holds some kind of NABCEP Certification. Our CTO Noel Cotter, widely respected as one of the most knowledgeable solar installers around, serves on NABCEP’s licensing board, helping to devise some of the difficult tests administered each year. The pass rate is typically less than 50%, so only the best of the best receive certification.

Q:  Will everyone working on my system be an employee of your company?
A:  Yes! Beware of companies that will sub-contract to the lowest bidder. At Luminalt, we take care of our customers in-house to ensure that they have the best possible experience.

Q:  Can I see a list of ten clients that you have installed solar electric systems for?
A:  Check out the projects section of our website for a few case studies, or look at the San Francisco Department of the Environment’s Solar Map.

Q:  How do you determine your system output data?
A:  We’re in this with you for the long haul. Call us at anytime with questions about your new PG&E bills, your ideal rate schedule, or just to say hi.

Q:  How long is your warranty on all of my components and your work?
A:  All of our work is warranted for ten years. By using the highest quality materials available, we build systems to last for at least 30 years. The warranty on equipment varies by manufacturer, but is typically 25 years.

Q:  Does your panel manufacturer perform quality control audits on your installations?
A:  Only if you want them to! If you don’t want to be bothered, we’ll let them know.

Q:  What is the efficiency of the panels that you are proposing to install?
A:  Depends on how much space you have on your roof. Luminalt typically uses SunPower panels, the highest efficiency panels on the market. Luminalt is a SunPower Elite Dealer, making us one of only a few companies nationally that meet this designation’s customer satisfaction and quality standards.

Q:  How does your company implement its values?
A:  Luminalt believes in the transformative power of solar and the green economy on communities. As such, we have a Community Solar Grant Program and participate in Workforce Development training for those with barriers to entry into the job market.

 

Your search for Solar should lead you to an Installer like Luminalt! For more information on finding the right Solar Installer in your area, check out our Solar page.”

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Family

Monday Tip of the Week: Make Story Magnets from old children’s books

Our friends over at Sun Hat & Wellie Boots have some great tips for green living. One of our favorites... Read

Our friends over at Sun Hat & Wellie Boots have some great tips for green living. One of our favorites is upcycled children’s books turned into story book magnets.

The steps are simple. Take an old book (a great place to pick these up would be your local library’s book sales–you can usually get children’s books for $.25 a piece!), you cut the images you would like, use a thicker card stock or old manila folder for backing, laminate, and attach some magnetic tape.

This is a great way to teach your children the importance of re-using, and will help their imaginations grow!

 

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Men

Schick® Announces Recycled Razor

“Alright men (and ladies), Schick® has created another new razor: the handle is made from 100% recycled plastic, and the... Read

“Alright men (and ladies), Schick® has created another new razor: the handle is made from 100% recycled plastic, and the packaging is made from 100% post-consumer paper. The Schick® Xtreme3® Eco™ is a disposable razor manufactured and shipped out of the company’s 99.9 percent landfill-free facility in Milford, CT. Schick® estimates they’ll be saving over 103,000 pounds of virgin plastic material and 15,500 pounds of virgin paper from going into landfills each year by using recycled materials in the new razor.

“”We know consumers are doing their part to live more sustainably, and we wanted to provide a simple way for them to do so with their shave,”” said Suma Nagaraj, brand manager for Schick Xtreme3®. “”At Schick, we’re taking proactive steps to minimize the impact of our products and manufacturing processes on the environment, and we’re continually looking for ways to improve — creating this product was the next step in our journey.””

“”For many years we wanted to launch a more sustainable razor,”” said Mike O’Malley, director of program management and sustainability for Schick®. “”We overcame many challenges along the way, like making sure the packaging gave us the quality look, perforation resistance and sealing capacity to hold up to the rigors of shipping. The result was the same exceptional quality and exceptional value razor that our customers know and love, now better for the environment.””

Schick® Xtreme3® Eco™ is currently available for both men and women at selected stores with wider, national distribution in April. To coincide with Earth month, Schick® Xtreme3® is partnering with eco-conscious celebrity-couple, actress Amy Smart and HGTV’s Carter Oosterhouse to launch a contest that challenges consumers to reuse common disposable items and reduce waste by creating a functional item out of recycled materials.

Here’s a big toast to Schick® for Doing A bit Better for all of us!”

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Pets

Keep Fido Flea-Free

“While we think it’s important to protect your furry friends all year ‘round, the warmer temperatures of Spring often signal... Read

“While we think it’s important to protect your furry friends all year ‘round, the warmer temperatures of Spring often signal the official start to flea & tick season.  More than just a tough itch to scratch, these blood-sucking parasites can transmit pathogens and diseases to your pet and you.  But rather than subject your pet to a chemical plunge, here are a few tips to keeping the fleas & ticks away naturally.

–          For starters, regularly bathe your pet.  When doing so, be sure to use a gentle, all natural shampoo to avoid irritating your pet’s skin & eyes.  For flea & tick treatment, we like Only Natural Pet Herbal Defense Conditioner.  And be sure to rinse your pet’s coat thoroughly to remove all the suds!

–          Gently brush your pet daily with a fine tooth comb.  This will both help comb out the critters and also allow you to see any ticks lurking in the fur.  Check out the GripSoft Flea Comb. When you do find a flea, drop it in a bucket of soapy water to kill it and stop the spread of eggs.

–          Clean where your pet snoozes.  Vacuum the areas where your pet sleeps and the fleas and their eggs may be living.  Also, wash your pet’s bed at least once a week in hot soapy water to help further kill off the eggs.

–          If the problem persists, use an herbal flea collar.  Made with essential oils to repel fleas & ticks, these cheap, easy solutions knock out the problem, and don’t smell too bad either!  We recommend the Natural Research People Herbal Collar.”

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Solar

Solar 101

“We are often asked the following questions:  What is solar energy?  How do the sun’s rays become electricity?  And can... Read

“We are often asked the following questions:  What is solar energy?  How do the sun’s rays become electricity?  And can you please explain both in common English?

That being said.  Welcome to Solar 101.

Solar terms defined
The solar cells that you see on calculators are called photovoltaic (PV) cells.  Photovoltaic combines two words: “photo” meaning “”light”” and “voltaic” meaning electricity. A solar panel is simply an array of many joined photovoltaic cells. Photovoltaic cells are most often made from silicon semiconductors.

So how does sunlight become electricity?
Now, remember back in 8th grade science when we learned that light is a form of energy?  When sunlight strikes the cell, a certain portion of light is absorbed within the semiconductor.  When the sunlight is absorbed the semiconductor knocks a portion of the lights electrons loose.  (Again, remember that all matter basically has protons and electrons).

PV cells all have an electric field that forces the free electrons to move in one direction. This flow of electrons creates an electrical current.  To light up your living room, your solar wiring simply taps into this current.

And now you can wow your neighbors at the next block party.  Kudos.”

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UpCycle

Green Gift Wrapping? Try Furoshiki!

The holidays mean something a little different to everyone, but one thing is almost universal: wrapping paper piles as far... Read

The holidays mean something a little different to everyone, but one thing is almost universal: wrapping paper piles as far as the eye can see. This year, instead of wrapping gifts in paper that will end up in the trash, consider the Japanese technique of Furoshiki. Using a single piece of fabric with no extra tape or materials, you can wrap gifts of any shape or size. It’s a fun project and the result is a beautifully wrapped gift that your friend or family member won’t soon forget.

 

Watch the YouTube tutorial here!

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