Fun in the Art of Upcycling

Report by: Tracy Mukami Kimathi.

Many people perceive environmental conservation as anti-development as well as cost-consuming. This holiday, I personally set out to prove this notion wrong by carrying out a few simple experiments that embrace the well known 4Rs that we environmentalists look up to. I then discovered a new term known as ‘upcycling’, which according to Wikipedia refers to the ‘process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless and/or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value’. In simpler terms it’s the reuse of discarded objects so as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original.

As the title also implies, I wanted to ensure the processes were simple enough to silence the idea that ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover’ is a complex and unmanageable affair. Once my little brother, whom you will see in the illustrations, saw my experiments, he quickly joined me. He proved it to be a fun experience that children all around the world can enjoy, without being forced, and without grumbles. As a result, I consider this report to open doors to a new generation of people who will find environmental conservation to be a joy, not a burden, as the previous and current generations portray it.

The main focus of this report is upcycling, it demonstrates profit gain, simple profit gain, cheap profit gain, and reusable profit gain. I basically reinvented old materials as items that can be reintroduced to the market with added value. Buyers can appreciate the handmade effort to personalize the items, thus adding value to its creative nature.

So now that we’ve explored the definitions and base of this article, let’s see the fun and easy ways to contribute to the restoration of our beautiful, spectacular, amazing, stunning, astounding, breathtaking (and so on) planet.


toilet roll craft 

Materials Needed.

  • Toilet paper rolls
  • Bottle caps
  • Markers/ paints
  • Paint brush
  • Any additional colour materials



  1. Paint toilet rolls (white preferably)
  2. Let them dry in the sun.
  3. Fold the top part (if necessary)
  4. Paint on desired features.
  5. Design your craft with glitter or bottle tops, or any other feature according to your design.
paint the rolls
1. Let the young ones paint the materials (they love it!)
painted rolls
2. Results after sun drying. (It’ll take less than 30 min)
owl ears folded
3. Designs vary. (I folded the ears for the owl effect)

ready to decorate

finished toilet roll
Finished results

 finished toilet roll



Jameson wrapped bottle
Finished Jameson whiskey bottle


  • Old wine/vodka bottle
  • Old jewellery.
  • Yarn

Step 1, 2 and 3 repeated

It doesn’t matter how badly off the bottle is. The yarn will cover the bottle fully, giving it a completely new appearance. This was the best upcycle example I created, turning a completely discarded material into an item that can be resold  to consumers who’d appreciate the personalized item as a gift. (Take note Jameson and other famous brands 🙂

image11 Old whiskey bottle


  1. Distribute the glue evenly on one section of the recycled bottled.
  2. Wrap the yarn around the bottle ensuring little to no space is left between the layers.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 till the desired point.

Decorate the finished bottle with buttons or jewellery or any other reusable material


The finished wrapped bottle
The finished wrapped Jameson’s bottle



from inspiration
to finished pot
to finished pot


  • Marker
  • Plastic bottle
  • NT cutter or craft knife
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Old calendar
  • Creativity 🙂

 wash plastic bottles


  • Wash out bottles and remove labels.
  • Cut out shape of respective animal from bottle.
  • Using an outdated calendar or greetings card, draw the features of animal to the respective dimensions of the bottle and cut it out.
  • Using glue, stick the calendar paper to the bottle and voilà, your very own plastic animal pot


Let your little helper wash out the bottle and remove the label. He chose for me the animal type too 🙂

wash the bottle

Cut out the animal shape with scissors, NT cutter or craft knife (carefully). Our chosen animal was a cat.

 cut out the shape

The cut out results.

cut-out cat shape from plastic bottle              








Happy New Year-2016!! Not everything of 2015 will be discarded:          

old 2015 items

Cat design as per bottle’s circumference measurement.

cat design

Finished Results

plastic bottle cat


Studies show that people are exposed to chemicals from plastics multiple times per day through the air, dust, water, food and use of consumer products. The chemicals are absorbed by the human body causing hormone alterations. Plastic ingested by animals injures or poisons them, and plastics disposed of in landfills leach harmful chemicals that further danger human health.

Plastics are a major pollutant and the damage grows due to their easy affordability and availability. According to Wikipedia, plastics contribute to approximately 10% of discarded waste. Between 60% and 80% of all marine litter consist of plastics (Derraik, 2002). Most economies don’t prioritize the issue of waste management and the low level of funding that does go to the issue is taken by corruption, this mostly happens in developing countries. In developed countries waste is known to contain mostly inorganic compounds (plastics being a large portion), as compared to developing countries that record mostly organic products. The blame is on everyone.

One cannot however stop the production of plastics as they are important in the modern age. It has uses in packaging, hospital equipment, and new studies that encourage plastics for home construction are readily emerging. If properly recycled, we can live with plastics without encouraging environmental and health damage. But if not managed, the multiple decade lifespans of plastics will kill our planet.

Recycling and upcycling can create immense job opportunities, from the stakeholders of solid waste disposal to the craftsmanship of the individuals reconstructing the items. In the project displayed above, I used less than 500ksh to buy the tools and materials that can return thousands in profit, as well as help in environmental conservation. The low income majority and the unemployed can create job opportunities for themselves by selling these items. Did I mention that they all took less than an hour in preparation?


-The materials I used are cheap and unemployed individuals can make and sell these items, investing as little as 500ksh as start up capital.

-The materials can be used for decorative, as well as utilitarian purposes in a household

– Schools can involve children in such projects, as they are easy to make and highly informative

-Companies can adopt such upcycling methodology. This will help in solid waste management, as well as limiting landfill developments.

Report by: Tracy Mukami Kimathi.

Contact Information:, +254 712 950183

Environment Today

The global environment is changing at a rate never seen before. With the human population already at seven billion and still continuing to expand, especially in Africa, Asian countries and Latin America, things cannot remain the same. Our urban centres and cities are suffering from overcrowding as more people are moving to towns to seek a better life. With this comes all manner of pollution. Solid waste menace is one of them. Municipalities are having a tough time coping with huge volumes of solid waste generated on a daily basis. These wastes end up in dumping sites; where there is little or no recycling done on them. The result is an environment that is highly polluted .Use of plastic bags has aggravated the situation further since they are not biodegradable.

US Environment Protection Agency photograph

Nations are struggling to feed their populations. Hunger and malnutrition is still lingering on, one year after the Millennium Development Goals expired.The Sustainable Development Goals are now on course. The purpose is to enable implementation of sustainable development agenda post 2015.It calls on nations to realign their development objectives with environmental conservation and management, so that adverse environmental damages are tackled while ensuring improved living standards for the people. Will the Sustainable Development Goals work? How are they going to be implemented? Will nations manage to fund these projects on their own, especially the developing countries?

Meanwhile, climate change is already a reality. Precipitation patterns, distribution and quantities have changed considerably. It is no longer easy to predict rainfall as before. Droughts and floods are common. It is a case of extremes. There is also global temperature rise which is melting ice sheets at the poles and on The Alps, The Everest. Result is sea level rise that is threatening the future of islands and low-lying coastal areas. Stabilizing these temperatures will require a lot of cooperation from all the countries, whether big or small, developed or developing. It will definitely take centuries before results are realized. Sacrifices will have to be made and above all, humans will have to adapt to the changes. How do we for instance, build our homes to withstand these extremes? Would a country like Kenya manage to feed its citizens when rains fail completely? Have we built the capacities of the most vulnerable people in our society, such as those living in arid and semi arid areas? Do they have alternative sources of livelihood other than pastoralism?How about our dependence on hydroelectric power, would we manage to power our homes and industries if water levels in our dams reached the lowest levels, or possibly dried out completely?

Tackling environmental challenges of the 21st century and beyond should concern every government, multilateral corporations, donor agencies and not to forget people like you and me. We all have a role to play. Our environment needs us, but we need it the most.

_              _ 0723 692048



Beryl is a fourth year student at Maasai Mara University, pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science (specializing in environmental conservation and management). She is the current secretary of Maasai Mara University Wildlife and Environmental Club.

During her attachment at Nairobi City County, department of environment, she got exposed to the environmental challenges facing the city of Nairobi and how they are being tackled. She had the opportunity to work in environmental planning and management, solid waste management and the parks departments of the county office.

Omondi Olonde – environmental images

A holder of a Diploma in Graphic Design, Omondi enjoys expressing himself in a variety of styles all based on realistic interpretation of our world. Major areas of interest include cartoons and caricature, graphic art and illustration as well as painting. Art history and poetry also play substantial roles in his art.

KENYA-SOMALIA: Hungry for learning in Dadaab camps

DADAAB, 22 March 2011 (IRIN) – In one of the largest and oldest refugee settlements in the world, education is a luxury denied most of the 90,739 children who live there.
Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN Across the three Dadaab camps, there are 19 primary schools, funded by the UN Refugee Agency (file photo)
Set up at the outset of Somalia’s civil war in 1991 to accommodate 90,000 refugees, three camps near the northeastern Kenyan town of Dadaab – Hagadera, Ifo and Dagahaley – are now home to more than three times that number, and persistent conflict in Somalia, from where 95 percent of the refugees originate, means the population grows daily.

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the primary school attendance rate is 43 percent while in secondary schools the rate is just 12 percent. Across the three camps, there are 19 primary schools, funded by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). In addition there are 11 private, fee-paying primary and six secondary schools.

In 2010, some 2,500 refugee children sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education. Of these, barely a fifth won a place at secondary school. National statistics for Kenya are considerably higher, at 82 percent and 49 percent for primary and secondary attendance respectively. The picture is far worse in Somalia itself, where primary school enrolment is 20 percent, with fewer than 10 percent going on to secondary school, according to UNICEF.

In Dadaab, money is the main problem. Despite being classified as a fundamental human right and recognized as providing much-needed psychological, physical and cognitive protection in emergency situations, education is the most underfunded sector in humanitarian aid. According to a recent report by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), only 2 percent of total humanitarian assistance is spent on education.

In 2010, UNHCR received only 20 percent of the US$30 million required to educate refugee children. Worldwide, according to UNICEF, approximately 75 million children are not enrolled in primary school. Half of them live in countries affected by conflict.

“The international community is failing Somali refugees by not prioritizing access to education,” Elizabeth Campbell of Refugees International (RI), an advocacy group, told IRIN. “The main reasons are lack of funding and lack of trained teachers. Even if there were more funding, there is a capacity problem that will be more challenging to address.

“Also, the Kenyan authorities have made it difficult to expand educational opportunities in Dadaab by not providing additional land required to build new structures.”

According to a 2010 report by UNICEF assessing education in Dadaab’s refugee camps, primary schools are stretched far beyond the standards for quality education, with each class accommodating 80 pupils instead of the stipulated 45. The schools also “have few Kenyan qualified teachers with nine trained and 800 untrained teachers in primary, 50 untrained and 35 trained teachers in secondary school”.

”It is very difficult to manage a high school on a zero budget”
Community initiatives

Three secondary schools have been set up by refugees themselves, but they only very partially bridge the gap in educational needs and they suffer from their own resource constraints.

“It is very difficult to manage a high school on a zero budget. We ask the students to pay some money for the teachers and maintenance,” Mohamed Kasim, chairman and founder of the community-run secondary schools, told IRIN.

Another obstacle to quality education comes from a lack of materials such as laboratory apparatus and basic equipment for practical classes like science subjects. “I have never attended a laboratory class for the past three years. I am very worried about how I will handle the practical examination during the KCSE [Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education],” said Aweys, a form-four student.

The headmaster of Towfiq Community Secondary School in Ifo camp, Hassan A. Saney, said that despite the hardships, he is optimistic about his students sitting his school’s first upcoming national examination. “We are expecting to receive some laboratory equipment by mid-March and hopefully we will have done something before we sit for the final examination,” he said.

The community initiative attracted support from NGOs Windle Trust Kenya (WTK) and CARE in the form of donations toward stationery and reference books. UNHCR also brought in qualified national teachers to the community schools.

WTK said a funding crisis meant money for schooling had to go to refugee teachers serving the schools and end-of-term examination papers. In addition, each student is required to pay KSh3,300, or $38 to be fully registered for 2011 admission, which many cannot afford. “We ourselves are forced to pay this money but in reality, we cannot afford it. We have to sell the little food we are given by WFP [World Food Programme] which is not even enough,” said Farhio, a form-four student from Towfiq Community Secondary School.

Schoolteachers insist that non-payment of fees should not be a hindrance. “We never allow qualified students to leave the school because they can’t afford to pay the money but a contribution from the community is paramount for a better society,” said Abdullahi, a teacher in Dagahaley community secondary school.

Except in the unlikely event of resettlement to a third country, even those who manage to complete secondary education in Dadaab have few opportunities for employment within the camps. But as RI’s Campbell says: “I don’t think that should be a reason to deny any child access to education. Some of the refugee graduates filter into urban areas or move elsewhere in the region and are able to start businesses and gain access to income and self-sufficiency.”

Refugee teachers are paid about $70 a month. While many refugees work for aid agencies in various capacities, they tend to receive meagre “incentive payments” rather than proper salaries, purportedly because of Kenya’s restrictive labour laws.

Lack of opportunity is a concern: “These idle youths turn to drugs and then indulge in criminal activities which in turn lead to insecurity problems. If something is not done I am afraid that these youth might even join the militia groups fighting back in their homes of origin,” said Liban Rashid, a youth spokesperson from Ifo camp.

In 2009, Human Rights Watch reported that Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government was also recruiting in the Dadaab camps and claimed that despite their denials, the Kenyan government was involved in the process.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

AFRICA: Going rural and green

Farming needs to make money to drive growth

ADDIS ABABA, 15 October 2010 (IRIN) – As rural Africa experiences an increasingly moody climate which will erode resilience, drive up hunger and threaten economic growth, it is time countries got serious about development, participants at the seventh African Development Forum in Addis Ababa were told.

Africa’s Rural Futures (RF) programme, an initiative of the African Union’s New Partnership for Development (NEPAD) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), sets out plans to boost rural development, and is an attempt to adapt to the impact of climate change.

At the same time, organizations such as the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Bank are backing the UN’s Green Economy Initiative, which is more focused on mitigation.

In his address, Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, NEPAD’s chief executive officer, called RF a “new way of thinking about development”.

But is it new? At a policy level, Lindiwe Sibanda, head of the Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network, a think-tank, explained: “Well, what they are talking about is integrated rural development with agriculture as the driver. It will get all the ministries to look at their sectors with a rural lens. It moves beyond the sectoral approach.”

This would do agriculture in Africa some good, she hoped. “Development of agriculture has suffered because of the sectoral approach.” Departments of transport, infrastructure and agriculture have not worked in consort in many countries, affecting food production and supply.

In a bid to revive their failing rural economies, some developed  countries have been running RF programmes for some years. WWF, which has been involved in some of these programmes, had been looking at an initiative to improve rural livelihoods with a link to improving biodiversity in Africa, when they found NEPAD.


African countries need to bring their own money to the table – then only will they be able  to decide what development path or programmes they want to implement

The RF programme is guided by the fact that 60 percent of the population in Africa is rural, though UN projections indicate that the number of urban dwellers is likely to treble over the next four decades.

“Urbanization is a part of the natural evolution of a society, but what conditions will these new urban dwellers live in – slums?” asked Estherine Lesinge-Fotabong, NEPAD’s programme implantation head.

By providing new impetus to agriculture, the RF programme also hopes to create jobs, absorb the growing population, and tackle food security and gender empowerment. Most subsistence farmers in Africa are women.


RF was launched at the Forum, but is still being fine-tuned and is currently at a “strategic document stage”. It envisages a two-year period of consultation with countries and civil society across Africa.

RF talks about developing linkages between local and regional markets, but stops short of any connections to industry. “That is its shortcoming, but the programme is still evolving,” said Mersie Ejigu, head of the Partnership for African Environmental Sustainability, an international NGO.

Ejigu, a development economist and former minister of development and planning in the Ethiopian cabinet, added: “I am not saying we need to have big investments in massive agro-based industries. It could be small-scale, home-based industries but when you are looking beyond agriculture and adding value, you have to look at processing the primary product.”


Read more
Are we heading for another crisis?
Hunger knows no borders
Farmers need a finanical umbrella
Food crisis in-depth

But money, and especially donors, decide the future of any programme in Africa, said Mamadou Cissokho, honorary president of the Network of West African Farmer and Producer Organizations. “African countries need to bring their own money to the table – then only will they be able to decide what development path or programmes they want to implement.”

This concern was also voiced by WWF’s Gabriella Richardson-Temm: “We are happy with the way this is shaping up and that Africa wants to design their own programme – but then donors, who bring in the funds, come with their own sets of conditions.”

RF could also be one of the components of the UN’s Green Economy Initiative, which is assisting governments to “green” their economies by reshaping policies to ensure growth on the basis of non-fossil fuel-based energy, backed by sustainable agriculture (with the help of investments in clean technology and public transport that runs on renewable energy). It also focuses on greening other sectors such as waste management and water services.

“You don’t want us to grow,” said a participant when UNEP’s Achim Steiner spelt out the initiative. Coal is still the cheapest source of energy in developing countries. Another said: “But Africa is already green – most of our people use biomass to produce energy.”

But you need money to access these alternative green technologies, pointed out Moussa Ould Hwedna, a technical adviser to Mauritania’s Ministry of Water and Sanitation. “Ours is a dry country and we need solar power to pump water from underground and the cost of solar energy is prohibitive.”

“We would like to adopt these technologies but developed countries should look at making it cheaper for us,” he added.

This is one of the issues at the UN climate change talks, the next round of which will take place in Mexico later this year.

jk/cb      Source: IRIN

Theme(s): Economy, Environment, Food Security, Gender Issues, Governance, Migration, Natural Disasters, Aid Policy, Urban Risk, Water & Sanitation,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]