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Zero Waste Crafting

September 8, 2019

Eliminating, substituting and/or reducing the waste from our artistic and crafty endeavours.



As a kid, I enjoyed arts and crafts. The earliest piece of artwork I recall making was in kindergarten, and it is the most Malaysian thing ever: a drawing of a durian, covered with glitter.


Something like this, but smothered in lots and lots of unnecessary glitter



I continue to enjoy working with my hands well into adulthood, and have branched into many other areas of craft: painting, sewing, jewellery making, and very briefly once, soap making.


While art is a worthwhile endeavour in and of itself (and is the very essence of being human, as some would argue), there’s no denying that it can also generate a lot of unnecessary waste. 


So if you’re artistic but you also want to reduce your waste from all the art projects you inevitably have going on at all times, below are some ways to go about it.


(If you’re more of a DIY handyman rather than an artsy fartsy person, check out Zero Waste Home Improvement.)





Before we go into specific arts and crafts categories, here are a few general principles that apply to all:





The painful, but ultimately irrelevant, truth.

We're not doing it for the financial aspects, that's for sure!



What are you going to make, and what purpose will it serve? To be fair, art need not be utilitarian, because beauty itself is a worthy purpose, but as much as possible, have a good reason as to why you’re making this piece of art or craft.


For example, I usually only whip out my arts and crafts tools when I am actually in need of something, whether it’s a new pouch I want to sew to hold all my cords, or a necklace I want to gift to a friend for her birthday. That way, I know my product won’t be uselessly pretty, but also well-used. 


Secondly, think about the end of your piece’s life - is it salvageable and can it find a second life with another purpose, or as materials for something else? Following my previous examples, at the end of the life of the pouch, I can reuse the fabric to sew other things use it as a washcloth. At the end of the life of the necklace (or if the friend hated it and returned it to me!), I could disassemble the chain and pendant and make new jewellery out of both.


Some questions to ask yourself:


  • Will you actually use this? Is this going to be utilised or displayed or gifted? Or will it just sit there collecting dust?

  • After you no longer want it, can it be disassembled and recycled properly? Or is it just one big gooey mess that will have to be sent to the landfill?






Try your best to buy just enough materials without too much of an excess (unless you have plans for the excess stuff too!). If you have any choice or control whatsoever, always opt for materials that are inherently reusable or recyclable. Crafts made out of paper are easily recyclable, but a piece of art made out of plastic glued together to fabric and metal bits will be much more difficult to reuse or recycle.


In addition choose materials that are versatile and multipurpose, so that it can be of use beyond just this one art project. Paint is a classic example of being multipurpose - you can use it to make a painting, or to paint a wood project, or to paint your house!





Check first to see if you can borrow rather than purchase tools, especially if the tools are for a one-time project. If it’s a craft that you will be pursuing seriously, then invest in tools that will last a long time and give them the proper care. And if you already have the tools, share them with other artsy & crafty friends!






Now we can dive into specific arts and crafts categories, all with their own peculiarities.







Go digital


This is the absolute best way to go zero waste: make the switch to digital painting, and eliminate the need for canvases, paints, brushes, palettes, sponges and every other tool required for painting with watercolours, gouache or oil. All of these can be imitated digitally on an electronic drawing pad, an appropriate software and a good stylus. To see what you can do with digital painting,