Top Books About Creative Reuse at Your Library

Reuse Got Me Reading!

By Laura Kraus, Librarian & Spare Parts Volunteer Coordinator

If you don’t frequent your local branch of the San Antonio Public Library (SAPL), you should probably take some time on a lazy Sunday to see what’s available: you might be surprised at everything that’s offered. They have programs for adults and children, host musicians and artists and of course they have books! If you don’t have a library card, it’s super easy to get one – go to any of the SAPL branches, present your ID and proof of Bexar County address. You can also pre-register online and get access to online resources.

As a librarian, I was excited to see SAPL has plenty of good print resources about creative reuse, sustainability, and the environment in general. I’ve put together two lists: one for adults and one for the younger crowd. My choices include crafty books to get you inspired to reuse what might be considered trash to some, and turn it into your own personal treasure. I’ve also included informational books to get you thinking about the state of our world, and the ways in which we, as its inhabitants, can make small changes to help out.

So, whether you’re looking for something creative to do on your time off, or a way to introduce a little one in your life to a value of our environment, take a moment to peruse these lists and see what sparks passion in you. #reusegotmethinking

Have any questions? Feel free to contact me ( and I’m happy to help.


Young Adult and Children’s Books on Reuse and Sustainability

Recycle This Book : 100 Top Children’s Book Authors Tell You How to Go Green


Don’t Throw That Away! : A Lift-the-Flap Book About Recycling and Reusing
Bergen, Lara


The Life Cycle of Paper
Costain, Meredith


Cool Odds and Ends Projects : Creative Ways to Upcycle Your Trash into Treasure
Scheunemann, Pam


Second-Time Cool : The Art of Chopping Up A Sweater
Lindén Ivarsson, Anna-Stina


What Can You Do With An Old Red Shoe? : A Green Activity Book About Re-use
Alter, Anna


Trash to Treasure : A Kid’s Upcycling Guide to Crafts : Fun, Easy Projects with Paper, Plastic, Glass
Scheunemann, Pam


Generation T : 108 Ways to Transform a T-shirt
Nicolay, Megan


47 Things You Can Do for the Environment
Petronis, Lexi

Adult Books on Reuse and Sustainability

1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse : Remake, Restyle, Recycle, Renew
Johnson, Garth.


Garbology : Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash
Humes, Edward


Use Less Stuff : Environmentalism for Who We Really Are
Lilienfeld, Robert M


Better : The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living
Caldwell, Nicole


Modern Upcycling : A User-Friendly Guide to Inspiring and Repurposed Handicrafts for a Trendy Home
Zacke, Susanna


Don’t Throw it Out : Recycle, Renew, and Reuse to Make Things Last
Baird, Lori


Rubbish : Reuse Your Refuse
Shoup, Kate


Refashioned Bags : Upcycle Anything into High-Style Handbags
Blakeney, Faith.


Stylish Remakes : Upcycle Your Old T’s, Sweats and Flannels into Trendy Street Fashion Pieces
Room, Violette


The Art of Cardboard : Big Ideas for Creativity, Collaboration, Storytelling, and Reuse
Zimmer, Lori


Collaborative project sees a creative reuse forest

Photo by Joey Lopez.
Photo by Joey Lopez.

See the Forest for the Trees is a remarkable artistic partnership between Spare Parts, the Southwest School of Art Teen Program (aka Bee Nation), and AP Art Lab. Members of Bee Nation decided they wanted to make a statement with a project for this year’s Contemporary Art Month (CAM). Under the guidance of Spare Part’s Founder and Director Mary Elizabeth Cantú 15 students collectively envisioned a large tree demonstrating the connection of art to the environment. “The theme of the exhibition revolves around the environment, material culture and waste,” explained Cantú. “Because, it’s not waste until we waste it.” Teen Program Coordinator and international installation, performance, and video artist, Julia Barbosa-Landois guarantees, “you will be wowed by this innovative installation made by local teens.”

Cardboard is everywhere. It’s used to package over 85 percent of all products sold in the United States. Seemingly innocuous, cardboard is the single largest component of municipal solid waste around the world.  Cardboard and paper waste make up 41% of the solid waste stream. According to this informative web article one ton of recycled cardboard saves:

  • 390 kWh hours of electricity
  • 46 gallons of oil
  • 6 million Btu’s of energy
  • 9 cubic yards of landfill space

It’s all about imagination and creativity

 Using over 400 square feet of discarded cardboard and reclaimed materials such as reused cardboard, plastic, paper and found objects from their homes and schools, Bee Nation students created this colorful, decorative tree to ‘uncover the aesthetics of detritus and reexamine their relationship with the discarded.’ Celia realized, “Until we did this project I had no idea the amount of trash we make as a society. It kind of freaked me out.” The student artists worked on their project beginning in January. First came the design and then the construction of the trunk and branches. Truly a tree of life there is a cornucopia of multimedia vignettes worth your while to give up close perusal. “Coming from a home of six people, we always have a LOT of toilet paper rolls. I learned that they can make really cool flower designs if you just alter their shape. That goes for all scraps of trash,” explained Alexis.

Someone said this to me the other day and it’s pretty on point – “Art is about transformation.”

See the Forest for the Trees


The resulting installation gives used cardboard a new life that honors its forest origins. “We didn’t know how it would look until it all came together during the installation,” said Bee Nation’s Elizabeth. Amanda Poplawsky, offered her AP Art Lab Studio located at 1906 South Flores for the exhibition. “I love working with youth in connection with social issues and activism,” she states. The above picture shows the tree from the front with closer views of some of the amazing details that went into the artistic construction. No wonder this installation won a Contemporary Art Month Cammie–the R. Mutt Award for Novel media turning something that isn’t art into art (see below photo with Cantú and Poplawsky) (March, 2016).

Cammie Award 2016

Cantú added, “Through this project I hope our artists are compelled to continue this type of art making. I hope these students see how their work can inspire and educate the community. Finally, I hope they understand that it doesn’t matter how young or young at heart you are, you have the ability to make positive change in the world.” This Tree of Life represents the hope for a healthier, more sustainable future. Because, there’s no such thing as thrown away!


Spare Parts is SA2020 nonprofit partner and this event was “Awesome Certified.”



10 Creative Ways to Reuse with a Laser Cutter

10 Creative Reuse Ideas for Laser Cutting


If you thought creative reuse couldn’t be hi-tech, think again! This is Amy from Maker Mama back with 10 ways to reuse with a laser cutter. Don’t have access to a laser cutter? Well you’re in luck, because local hackerspace, 10BitWorks, is raising funds to bring one to their space–and if you donate at the Maker Track level, you can use it, too! Now on to all the awesome things you can create with this snazzy tool: