Category Archives: Safety

Guidelines for safe and effective upcycling/recycling

This article was written by Michelle Tulumello. ¬†She has a shop on Etsy called Gaia’s Reflections:

Welcome to the Recycle Party team. We are glad that you have decided to join us in being good to the earth by recycling your craft materials and vintage items.

Upcycling is a unique challenge. The items you use can be found dirty, in non standard sizes and shapes, sometimes materials need to be taken apart and put back together in different ways without losing their structural integrity. This can be hard to do well and safely. Let’s look at some of the issues we might run into:

TOXINS-This is particularly important when your items will be used for eating and drinking. It is also important if you are making things that will be used by children or babies.

Here are some dangers specific to a few categories of materials used.

PLASTICS- We probably don’t need to tell you about how they found all those kids toys with lead in them a few years ago. Most of those toys were plastic. There are also other toxic ingredients in plastics that can be released as they degrade. BPA and thalates are two of these. When it comes to plastics, knowing your materials is a very good thing. Vintage plastics can also be a source of toxins and poisons. Bakelite, for example, has a high lead content. Sawing, melting, sanding, and cutting plastics releases their toxins, so be attentive to workplace safety when you do this.

METALS- Metals can have the same problems with toxicity as plastics. Knowing the exact content of the metal you are working with can help prevent lead exposure.

Base Metal- is any mixture of metals or plated metal. This is in the same category as Chinese plastic. Assume it could be contaminated, particularly if it was manufactured in a 3rd world country. People who are allergic to metals usually can’t wear this.

Silver- You could write a book about the different types of ingredients in the metals people call silver here on etsy. Most of it is plated base metal. Recycled silver that you would purchase from a manufacturer is usually marked 925 sterling or It is described as fine or 100% silver, depending on what is stated. This is usually safe, especially when it is purchased from an American (think developed world) manufacturer. The EU, Canada, and Japan also have high manufacturing standards

Copper-All copper used in electrical wiring is lead free. (Lead is not conductive) If you strip the wires of their plastic covering and wipe them down, they should be fine.

Pewter- Antique pewter became lead free in the USA and Britain after the late 1700’s. Currently all pewter manufactured in the EU, Japan, and Canada is also lead free. In its original form, pewter used to contain up to 10% lead.

PAINT- The European Union has passed a directive controlling lead paint use.

In Canada, regulations on surface coating materials, which came into force in 2005, limit lead to its background level for both interior and exterior paints sold to consumers and Canadian paint manufacturers have been conforming to this background level in their interior and exterior consumer paints since 1991. [3]

The United States’ Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned lead paint in 1977 (16 Code of Federal Regulations 1303), along with toys and furniture containing lead paint.

NOTE- Lead poisoning is a particularly serious issue in children, because it takes a much lower dose to cause symptoms, and they put things in their mouths.

WORKPLACE SAFETY- Upcycling products can be dangerous work, because you are not making the same thing every time. Be attentive to the dangers posed by the materials you use and wear appropriate safety equipment. ( Don’t forget your crochet helmet ;-))

If you make lighting or other electrical devices, make sure you use appropriate wiring. (It would be great if someone added more info as to how to do this safely with upcycled materials.)

CHILDREN’S ITEMS- Make sure all items are reasonably durable, lead free, and do not pose a choking hazard. No small parts or long straps should be used for toddler and baby items. Imagine a baby chewing on it and ask yourself whether it would be non-toxic and not break or cause the baby to choke.

Most of all, KNOW YOUR MATERIALS. Ask yourself these questions- Is it toxic? Is it breakable? Is anyone allergic to it? Have I labelled it correctly? Do my customers know what is in it, and how it should be used?

Welcome to the world of upcycled art. I hope we haven’t scared you too much, and that you make many lovely, useful and eco-friendly things.