Posts Tagged ‘reuse’

Does Lego really need to spend $150 million on building a better block?

March 1st, 2016

Lego Blocks By Arto Alanenpää (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Lego is one of my all-time favourite toys. As a kid, I loved building and creating, and the blocks brought out the inner architect in me. As a parent, I was thrilled that my kids loved Lego, so I could buy as much as my budget would allow for them to play with, of course.

One of the awesome things about Lego is its indestructibility. We’ve all encountered just how indestructible it is when we’ve stepped on one of those little bricks in our sock feet. It can hurt like the dickens. But its durability has good and bad aspects to it. The good: the blocks always fit together perfectly, unlike Lego’s competitors’ blocks. The bad, once it ends up in landfill, it will be there pretty much forever. Eventually, most of us grow out of Lego, and while many of us will keep a few sets, most of it, unfortunately, will find its way to landfill, maybe not now — it might get put away for future grandchildren or get sold at garage sales —  but sooner or later it will end up in the garbage. » Read more: Does Lego really need to spend $150 million on building a better block?

Earth Day Canada’s Upcycling Challenge Contest!

October 12th, 2011

Wondering what to do with that old lamp you have gathering dust in the basement? Maybe you could turn it into a vase! What about an old unused trunk? Could it become a chest of drawers?

If you’re oozing with creative talent and have Martha Stewartesque qualities about you, here is your chance to put those powers to work!

Earth Day Canada is running a contest between now and November 27th, 2011 to demonstrate your Upcycling abilities and creativity.

According to the Earth Day Canada website: “Projects will demonstrate the importance of re-use and waste reduction with adherence to good safety practices.”

It’s a great way for us to rethink what we might consider to be garbage. Stuck for ideas? The concept for this contest immediately made me think of the magazine, Real Simple, which is always creating alternative uses for everyday items. Taking a look through it might help you come up with a few creative nuggets of your own.

Winning categories and prizes:

There are two categories, “individual” and “group” and three winning entries in each: “Most Upcycled” “Most Inventive” and “Best Makeover.”

Individuals will win a cordless drill and driver kit donated by Panasonic.

Groups will win a cordless drill and driver kit as well as a cordless jigsaw.

One school/classroom will win an Electronic Whiteboard, courtesy of Panasonic.

For full details and entry form, visit Earth Day Canada’s contest web page.

For more information about Earth Day Canada, visit their website.


Update your furniture and add some “Zing!” while you’re at it — Vicky Sanderson shows us how.

September 15th, 2011

Let’s just say you’ve inherited four Victorian dining chairs with needlepoint cushions from your grandmother and desperately want to give them away or sell them or put them on the curb but guilt makes you keep them and you cart them around from house to house wondering what in the world you’re going to do with them (ahem). Along comes Vicky Sanderson, who abhores throwing out good pieces of furniture, or almost anything for that matter, if she can breathe new life into it by giving it a stylish update. Bringing old pieces up to date will not only make you enjoy your old pieces, but also make you think fondly of your childhood days at granny’s instead of resenting the pieces themselves. Not sure how to do this? Read on as Vicky inspires us with ideas for sprucing up your home by reusing what you have and adding a little paint to breathe life into old pieces (and rooms).

But, BEFORE Vicky tells us how to get more from less, if you’d like to see her in person, Vicky will be at the Toronto Fall Home Show running September 22-25, 2011 at the Better Living Centre, Exhibition Place.  She will be speaking about shortcuts to take to create fabulous décor on Thursday, September 22 at 3:00pm, Friday, September 23 at 1:00pm, and Sunday, September 25 at 4:00pm on the Style at Home Main Stage presented by HGTV. Visit for more details.

And now, back to Vicky….

Vicky Sanderson

Upcycle. Repurpose. Steampunk. They’re all variations on a theme, used to describe the practice of modifying and repairing existing goods to extend their lives. While the design cognoscenti may claim it as the latest trend, it’s been a way of life for greenies for a long time — at least as long as the motto, reduce, reuse, recycle has been part of common eco-parlance.

It’s only now that the cool kids get that not only is recycled decor good for the planet — it can be a quick shortcut to seriously chic room design. And getting the look is dead easy, because it’s entirely based on personal taste and imagination.

A coat of paint is one of the quickest, most affordable ways to refresh the style of any room, or to give new lustre to a beloved, but well-worn piece of furniture or accessory.  And colour, of course, is always highly personal.

Look to retailers for inspiration (Photo courtesy of RONA)

Used in a room, colour can breathe new life into tired furniture by providing an exciting backdrop. Applied in a block or wide stripe, it makes a striking statement, and it can define space in an open concept design. To get a polished look, you’ll want crisp, sharp paint lines, which are easy to achieve if you use a good tape, such as 3M’s new Edge-Lock painter’s tapes. It doesn’t bleed, seep or irritate the skin and can remain on the surface over several days, allowing paint to fully dry and set. For décor ideas with paint, as well as tips on how to mask like a pro, go to, and look under Painting Tips and Techniques.

There are loads of options for eco-friendly paints these days, including a new line from Rona called Rona Eco, which is made almost entirely from recycled paint. According to Rona, the production of this low-VOC, latex-based recycled paint reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 75 per cent, compared to an equivalent production of virgin paint.

Some paint and a roll of good tape can produce distinctive looks (Photo courtesy of 3M)

An edited palette of 16 shades offers plenty of options, all of which dry to a lovely velvety finish that’s also a snap to wipe clean.

Appliance decals give an instant custom look (Pic RONA)

You can also add visual interest to any wall by using graphic decals, either with or without painted effects. There are even decals for appliance fronts these days. Look for the Mur-Mur line, also available at Rona.

Settee -- "Before"

Chairs - "Before"

Reupholstering old furniture is another way to create unique décor. Search for interesting pieces on Kijiji, in thrift and vintage shops or at local garage sales. Keep an eye on the curbside in your neighbourhood too, which is where the chairs in the “before” picture shown were discovered. They, along with a tired settee, got a fabulous new look, with help from the wickedly creative Jim Connelly and Peter de Souza of Masterpieces Studio Notice that the fabric on the seats and chairs don’t match; that’s because we used scraps that many would have sent off to the trash. The settee was refinished with metallic foils which are then covered with a lacquer-like finish suitable for outdoors. Seats and backs are covered in marine-grade vinyl, so that the piece will work indoors or out.

Settee and Chair -- "After"

Two books become a unique candle holder (Photo courtesy of Lisa Occhipinti)

Your local bookstore, library or fave décor mag is also a good source for inspiration. Check out, for example, Lisa Occhipinti’s new book, The Repurposed Library ( This artist uses simple tools to transform old books into distinctive objets and accessories.

So whether it’s dubbed upcycling, repurposing or steampunking, remaking used and vintage finds into new décor is finally getting the attention it deserves. Maybe it’s even time for a new motto. How about sustainable, sensible — and sexy!

Vicky Sanderson writes Hot Home Products, a widely-read weekly column on home improvement, décor and housewares that appears every Saturday in the Toronto Star. She also keeps readers up to date on new products through her blog, On the House, which can be found on Having tried and tested just about every new home product, décor item and countertop appliance to hit the market in the last 10 years, Vicky is an expert on all things home-related. She frequently shares tips, tricks and trends on such media outlets as Canada AM, Breakfast Television, CHCH Morning Live, and CBC Radio. Follow her on Twitter @vickysanderson

Repair Your Cell Phone, Don’t Ditch it!

January 3rd, 2011

A few weeks ago, Graziela Benedet from contacted me and suggested writing an article about repairing cell phones. While cell phone repair isn’t exactly a “green building” topic, repairing home electronics and appliances is, and, frankly, repairing electronics is generally better for the environment than replacing. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. That 20 year old fridge you’re still using has more than outlived its useful life and is probably costing you more in electricity than it’s worth. Your old TV in the basement that weighs 700 lbs (okay, maybe it just feels like it), could stand an upgrade and save you electricity consumption too. However, when it comes to cell phones, and technological toys in general, I really have a bee in my bonnet about them. I hate to finger point, but Apple is at the core of this problem, and yes, while I know that they have been making great strides in their environmental stewardship program, all of their environmental steps mean squat if they keep producing new and “next generation” products well before their “old” products have outlived their useful life. Here’s a perfect example: my son recently complained that his iTouch (that he scrimped and saved for using birthday and odd jobs money) was old and outdated and he needed a new one  — and he’d only had it for a year! I’m picking on Apple because of the big splash they made in 2010 with the iPad and iPhone 4G launch (did they launch the MacBook Air too?), but all electronics companies are guilty of this practice (Sony, Nintendo, Samsung…).

RepairLaunch highlights the negative effects of throwing away your old electronics if they’re not managed properly — which, sadly, is most of the time. Repairing a cellphone prolongs its life and lessens the toxins let into the environment by old cell phones and reduces demand for new ones. RepairLaunch not only provides a mail-in service for repairing cellphones, the website also lists local affiliates where you can get your phone or other electronics repaired (only a few are in Canada, the rest in the US). The site is full of information on e-waste including how many toxins leach out of electronics into landfills and tips on what to look for in a reputable cell phone repair place. Below is the article Graziela sent me on behalf of RepairLaunch.

Tips for Repairing your Cell Phone

The repair service industry has seen an increase recently as expensive phones and other personal electronics tend to break easily are very costly to buy without a long term carrier plan to come with them. The reason starts with Apple, who maintains a minimum in overall products and as a result produces products that can be fixed at a respectable price. Through this, more and more places are opening up to repair other models of phones, such as HTC and Motorola as well as the variety of computers and media players.

Here is a top 5 list of things to keep in mind when buying your cell phone.

Cost of repairs

The cost of a repair depends on what the problem is. For stores to order parts at a reasonable price, they must look to wholesalers in China. The problem is, even from China, the cost of some parts is extremely expensive. The older models of iPhone (3G, 3Gs) had the screen separated from the LCD. While this could cause dust to get in between, it makes screen repair much cheaper. With those models, just because the screen cracks does not mean the LCD is harmed. So, instead of spending $150 or more to get it repaired, it only costs $60. If a repair costs more than $150, the customer will likely consider starting new. The water damage problem is one that will never go away. Service typically charge $100 or more for this service, depending on if a part is needed.

Don’t Order the wrong thing

If you are confident in your skills with DIY repair, make sure you diagnose the problem correctly. First. Ordering the wrong parts can be a very bad thing and often time ruins a phone. The best thing to do if you have any questions is contact the people you are buying parts from.

Carrier blocks

You are legally permitted to jailbreak and unlock your phone. This is a cool thing because people can now use their favorite phone on any carrier. Many phone companies are conceding to the legalities of the issue and while not always making easy, certainly are not making it any harder.

DIY repairs are hard

The growing amount of videos and manuals are very encouraging. Unfortunately, DIY repairs themselves are still very difficult for the average Joe. It does not have to be this way. It would be awesome if people knew that if they broke their phone, they could easily order a cheap part and fix it. As it stands now, most phones require and intense amount of organization and know-how that most people do not possess.

Protective accessories

Many accessories that are sold don’t do much to protect the phone and can actually cause more damage. If a phone cover is not designed correctly, dirt can collect, scratching and even cracking the phone down the line. Others are just plain misleading, such as the bumpers sold for the iPhone 4. These were once called “protective” bumpers but don’t protect the iPhone at all. Seriously, not even a little.

Even by taking the “protective” out of their marketing pitch, the name “bumper” in itself is misleading. When the iPhone 4 antenna problems came about, Apple started giving these things out for free to correct the issue. While it can help with reception issues, other protective cases can help with reception as well as protect the device. Now there are a bunch of users walking around thinking they have a protected device, but this is not true in the slightest.

You should look at your phone purchase as a significant investment. The parts are valued, for the typical smartphone over $150. This means that even when your phone breaks, the phone is still worth something to someone, most likely a local repair shop.

%d bloggers like this: