Why Sustainability is Crucial for the Maker Movement: and vice versa

sustainability Creating something gives you a special feeling. Take a bunch of random objects and violà you have created something else. The problem with making is that sometimes it can cost a lot of money. We’re always looking for funds or swiping our credit cards. Constant trips to the local craft store. Can we support this type of making in our makerspace programs? We can if we look to the sustainability movement. Believe me, you can get a lot done with cereal boxes, jars and cans, old fabric, even dead tennis balls from your high school tennis team.

According to the EPA, “Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.” (To learn more about sustainability and how you can help, click here.) Many items end up in our landfills that could otherwise serve an additional purpose. These discards have an impact on the environment. We can upcycle by converting old or discarded materials into something useful. This is a great way to reuse materials and reduce our footprint, thus having a positive impact on the environment by removing items from the global garbage accumulation. It’s not just the excess garbage in our landfills that we need to worry about, but also the waste and energy required to make and transport newly made supplies to our local Michael’s, Jo-Ann’s or other craft store. Think of all those 18-wheel vehicles barreling down the interstate. Then we need to jump in our cars and drive over to the store to gather our shiny new supplies. Which, even with clipping coupons, costs us a pretty penny. Can we continue to do this indefinitely?


Still not so sure about this? Here’s what I propose, let’s combine the two (Sustainability + Making) and upcycle some common objects. Here’s just a few ideas to get you started in realizing how really simple this can be. There are numerous ideas online once you decide to take it further or you can look at some ideas on my Compassionate Maker webpage or makerspace themes page.

 Some ideas using fabric… 

Between myself, my husband and our four children we have lots of t-shirts. You know the collection – ones from vacations, some from other people’s vacations, and the never ending supply of yearly school sports team tees. (Just in case you don’t have the volume of tees that we do, it’s easy to call for donations. My library makerspace has a stack of at least 50 t-shirts. There’s someone, somewhere who wants to clean out closets and draws.)


no-sew tote bags



braided dog toys




There’s always a supply of jeans. Someone is always gaining weight (that would be me) or losing weight (not me). We have a yearly call for jean donations in our school.



jean bag

-braided dog toys; see above (any fabric will work – denim, t-shirts, old towels)



Your kids no longer like their “fill in the blank/former popular character” fleece blanket? Turn it into a pet bed or dog blanket. Instead of going out and buying Poly-fil stuffing, stuff the bedding with poly-fil from an old pillow or use t-shirts. (Yeah, I have a lot of t-shirts…)

fleece bedding blanket

For more animal related activities click here. Did I mention I have two Shi-Poos?

Other assorted items…

Got Balls? 

Used tennis balls make a dog very happy. Just cut a slit at both ends and insert braided fabric (see above). Fido is now busy and content and you didn’t need to gas up the car and drive over to Petco/PetSmart. dog toy


See that wasn’t so bad. Easy peasy. Hopefully by this time I’ve motivated you to upclyle a few household items and help save the planet in the process.  I use some of these activities when human impact on the environment shows up in the curriculum. While these ideas are great to use individually, hopefully you’ll bring similar ideas into your makerspace and give your students another more physical and tangible angle to the curriculum they are reading about in their classrooms.




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