A wad of plastic grocery bags. An empty beer can. A discarded juice pouch.
For Teresa Everly, these items aren’t trash. They’re materials just waiting to be turned into a cute stuffed animal, a handy tote or even an eye-catching hat.
Everly, a Hagerstown-area mom, won a 2011 Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Award from Washington County for her small business, Recycled Crochet, which sells items she makes out of discarded materials. The Washington County Board of Commissioners presented the awards at its meeting Tuesday.
“A lot of my friends save their bags and old VCR tapes and things like that,” Everly said. “We’ll come home, and I’ll have stuff at the back door with a note: ‘I hope you can use this.’ Yeah, I’ll use it.”
She cuts the bags into thin strips, links them together and uses the material like yarn for crocheted bags, hats, rugs, stuffed animals and more. For a shimmering black or brown effect, she switches to VHS, cassette or even eight-track tape.
“Any pattern that’s used for crochet, with yarn, you can use for this stuff, because it’s the same technique, just a different material,” Everly said.
She sells her creations online at www.recycledcrochet.webs.com, at a booth at the annual Boonsboro Green Fest and in Turn the Page Bookstore in Boonsboro.
Everly said her grandmother taught her to crochet when she was 9 years old, but it was not until about 10 years ago that she applied the skill to recycled materials. One of her first projects was a reusable tote crocheted from plastic grocery bags.
“I saw one in a store like this, and they were selling them for crazy, crazy amounts, like $25, and I thought, ‘Well, I can do that,’” she said.
Once she mastered the technique, she began giving recycled crochet items as gifts. One of her children’s teachers at Hagerstown Children’s School was so impressed with the teacher appreciation gifts Everly made that she encouraged Everly to begin selling her creations.
That was about five years ago. Today, her online business is thriving, with orders coming in from as far away as Japan, South Africa and Germany.
In addition to items crocheted from bags and tape, Everly sells purses and lunch boxes made from soda can tabs, jewelry made from bottle caps, bags made from juice pouches, hats made from beer cans, and coin purses made from orange juice cartons.
When she’s in the mood for a new challenge, she asks her 286 Facebook fans for suggestions.
“I like to try to do something different that I haven’t done yet,” she said.
A stay-at-home mom with a 9-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter, Everly works on her creations at home while her children are at school.
Her children collect cans and juice pouches at school and enjoy making crafts with their mom in the evenings.
“They’re my helpers,” Everly said.
She also gets materials from Hempen Hill BBQ, which saves bottle caps for her, and Turn the Page Bookstore, which saves newspaper bags.
The tab purses, one of her most popular items, are also one of the most time-consuming.
“I can do a couple, maybe two of those, a day,” she said.
She sells the tab purses for $10 to $50, depending on size and complexity. Many of her other items sell for $10 or less.
“I like to keep everything low because I’m not paying for the material,” she said. “It’s mainly just my time, and I would be doing it anyway. It’s not really to make a lot of money off of. I just like doing it.”
Everly also gets satisfaction from giving new life to materials that might otherwise end up in a landfill or, worse, littering a roadside.
“Seeing all the trash all over, the bags in the trees and trash in the streets and stuff, it’s just horrible looking,” she said.
The county commissioners approved the 2011 Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Award winners at a meeting in December.
The award was introduced last year. It is coordinated by the Washington County Solid Waste Advisory Committee, which reviews nominees and recommends winners to the commissioners.
2011 Reduce, Reuse Recycle Award winners
Schools: Clear Spring Elementary School for its extensive recycling program and designation as a Maryland Green School, and Williamsport Elementary School for its recycling efforts, including a student-made recycling video, a “green patrol” and the introduction of compost bins.
Nonprofit business: Antietam Creek Watershed Alliance Inc. for removing more than 2.5 tons of trash and recyclables from a three-mile stretch of Antietam Creek during its Creek Rubbish Roundup in September and The Arc of Washington County for its recycling program.
Small business: Recycled Crochet for making usable items from recycled materials.