Environmentally Friendly Practices in Art & Life

My favorite graphic by artist Mari Andrew


Hi friends and happy World Environment Day!  I’ve been busy around the studio as we finish projects before our summer break and get ready for <<summer sessions>> this August so my apologies for being absent!

As many of you know, I have been attempting to jumpstart my efforts in cutting down on single use plastic in my home and around the art studio*! I’ve stopped using plastic straws, bags, wrap and any other plastic that cannot be recycled or repurposed in some way. It is no easy feat, but I’ve been learning to deal with a minor inconvenience over caving into plastic usage (forgoing straws/plastic utensils at restaurants, toting around cloth and mesh grocery/produce bags, etc.) Along with other environmentally friendly practices we’ve been doing for years in my home (glass tupperware, mason jars for drinks and coffee on the go, cruelty-free and local products, etc), I’m just trying to do my part, and my wish for you is the same!

That being said, I have been ruminating on some things that have worked for me with my students, in my own art making, and at home that have been applicable, so I wanted to share them with my lovely readers 🙂 I am no recycling or zero waste expert/guru/crusader, but merely a constant creative problem solver and a firm believer in “there is always a better way of doing something.” Plus, saving our home planet and ridding our oceans, ozone layer and precious wildlife of our mess is great too, right? 😉

Here are 5 ways to incorporate eco-friendly habits into your art making and life:

1) Salvage what you can

This applies more to art-making and around the art studio. The studio where I teach has been keeping large drawers dedicated to scraps for years- bins of paper, fabric, scrap yarn, and yes- even plastic! This may seem like a no-brainer and falls more into the “repurpose” category, but if a plastic bottle can live a new life as a well-loved art project that sits proudly in my student’s home, that is a win for me (and the earth if it would have otherwise ended up in a landfill)! Also, we like to store things like paintbrushes, pencils, pens, and erasers, etc in reused metal cans, tins, and bowls!

Materials ready to be reused in our bins!
Reusing cans for storage

In our recent doll project in my fiber class, we used mainly scrap fabric and materials to create our dolls and their outfits and they came out amazing! It was fun to see my students getting creative and excited as they perused our bins of fabric from past projects! We have also based many projects on recycled and repurposed materials and the results are always incredible.

Recycled fabric dolls
Dragon made out of a plastic bottle by one of our young students!

2) Use natural materials whenever possible

Since polyester and other synthetic fibers are mostly plastic, I try to buy 100% cotton, wool, silk fabric and yarn (which also happen to be necessary for plant and food dyeing). Some of my favorite materials include natural wool, silk fabric, cotton embroidery floss and thread, cotton muslin for fabric projects with the kids, and cotton rope for macrame. We weave on wooden lap looms and embroider with wooden hoops, and my kids have brought many of their own old shirts and jackets from home that we dye, embroider and breathe new life into! I have covered up many stains on perfectly good shirts with indigo dye! 😉

We buy wholesale if we need brand new supplies, but I love the studio because we have so many recycled and repurposed materials that serve a wide variety of purposes. Plus, I just think it encourages more creativity to transform scraps into a work of art! Furthermore, I am admittedly obsessed with Craigslist, my local Habitat for Humanity Restore, and any consignment store I can find, which brings me to my next point:

3) Shop local and consignment

This may be my favorite point because not only do we have a problem with plastic, but we have a problem with consumption. Why do we have so much stuff?! This addresses bigger questions that I don’t have the answers to, but the truth is the average American has too much stuff. Even Goodwill and consignment stores are being buried in donations because of how much we buy and trash ( 1) !

So what is the solution? Reduce, reuse, recycle. Is there a local consignment store where you can mix and match trendy and vintage pieces (which are often much better quality) and give old clothes a new home? Can you shop local instead of online or at a big retailer where they ship everything in, leading to more fuel costs and pollution (although I do love Target :'( but hey, I can still enjoy in moderation, and you can too) ? Can you budget for a few well made pieces or items that can be worn or used for years instead of many cheap, trendy items? All consignment stores and restores are also great for art and home projects, and often times much cheaper!

4) Just say no to plastic (whenever you can)

Thankfully I live in a town where plastic bags have been banned, but not everyone does. Besides bringing your own bag/cup/utensils and straws, there is the tricky situation of packaging. There is SO much plastic packaging out there! Not only do many fiber materials come in plastic bags, but most packaging is made of plastic bottles–  everything from art supplies to grocery items to beauty products and clothing!  Pretty much anything you order online comes wrapped in plastic (even my reusable bags! talk about defeating the purpose…) which is so much a part of our everyday modern conveniences. 

I find this part the hardest, because sometimes I won’t even realize what I’m buying has plastic packaging, or there is no alternative– especially with things we can’t go without, like food and toilet paper?! This can be frustrating because it can feel like as consumers we have no choice or are set up to fail. I think the best piece of advice I’ve found is to just try. Is there a farmer’s market nearby or even a farm share where you can buy fresh veggies without the plastic wrapping? Does your grocery store have an option where you can bring your own jars and buy goods like nuts, seeds, dried fruit, grains and beans in bulk? Can you buy something in glass or cardboard so it can be recycled? Can you make something easily at home that cuts down on packaging? Does your favorite beauty store or company have a package free option (my fav, Lush does)?

I encourage you to think through your own habits and think about practical ways you can change your waste consumption 🙂 However, if some of these things can’t work for you, don’t sweat it. This article was really helpful for me to understand that achieving “zero waste” can be difficult for those who don’t have access to as many resources as others do, depending on location, time, and $$.

Did you know that many of our coffee cups will outlive us?!

5) Spread awareness

This one is perhaps most important, because I think it’s all about creating a domino effect. If one friend, family member or neighbor sees your efforts and gets inspired to cut down on plastic and waste, that’s one more person or household! Over the course of a year, America generates around 300 million tons of trash (2). Just knowing this makes me want to incite change! I want my great grandchildren to live in a world with coral reefs and polar bears, don’t you?

Cue anecdote: the other day, one of my students was telling me how she’s part of an environmental club at school. She explained how each member was doing a presentation to every class in their entire K-8 school educating their peers on what plastic is doing to the earth and how we can help! I was not only impressed, but I was really glad these kids will know about this problem at such a young age. It is SO important that they have this awareness– imagine what would happen if a whole school or even just a classroom of kids gave up plastic! This gives me hope for a plastic-free future.

Lastly, I just loving sharing what my kids make, because there is so much to explore in the realm of recycled and environmentally friendly art (and loads of books and great ideas out there). I always take photos and post them on our studio page or on my personal art page so people can see just how beautiful recycled projects can be!

I will keep you guys updated on my efforts here if you’d like and over on my own Instagram where I post weekly on my pursuit of eco-friendly practices 😉 Let me know if this has been helpful, and any other tips, ideas, or advice you may have!

One last thing to note– this is by no means an exhaustive list, and I think what’s most important is putting your best effort into being environmentally conscious! I don’t expect to get it right every time and neither should you, nor should anyone shame themselves or get discouraged if they don’t do everything perfect! We are all learning, growing, and changing constantly.

PS- This has less to do with art making, but here are some great reusable alternatives I’ve been loving lately:

  •  Reusable straws (silicone, hard reusable BPA free plastic or metal)
  •  Reusable food wrap (been loving Bees Wrap!)
  • Mesh produce bags (to go in my reusable grocery bags, which are 99 cents at most stores!)
  • Package-free shampoo and conditioner bars (Lush is linked above)
  • BYO cup to Starbucks (they give you a discount of 10 cents a cup!)
  • Paper cups, straws and eco friendly party supplies

*Note: I’ve linked articles throughout this post that have been helpful to me so don’t forget to check those out:) Thanks for following along!





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