Elkhart County 4-H Fair promotes sustainability with 'upcycling' contest

ELKHART COUNTY, Ind.—Over the last ten years, since the creation of its Green Committee, the Elkhart County 4-H Fair has worked to both educate the public about sustainability and keep plastic waste out of landfills.

In just five years, the committee has kept over 13.5 tons of plastic bottle caps and lids from the stacked hills of landfills. Instead, the waste is re-purposed into new benches that line the walkways of the annual fair.

A bench at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair made out of recycled plastic bottle caps and lids.

Green Committee Chairperson Jan Robinson says this year, the fair’s annual Green Earth Education Day, will be even bigger than the last, with an expanded “upcycling” contest and more booths set to educate the public about sustainability in the region.

“We have more exhibitors, like one who will teach people how to recycle Styrofoam, which is just really hard,” Robinson said.

The “upcycling” contest invites fair-goers to make something old, new again by re-purposing an item that may have ended up in the trash.

Kris Peterson has participated in the contest every year, from making a new shirt out of used curtains and wall art out of a an old pair of jeans.

“One year I created a formal gown out of 350 Meijer grocery bags and the next year I completed another formal gown, ball length with a train with six video cassettes. I thought I was going to save the landfill on that one but it only took six, there’s a lot of tape in those,” Peterson said.

This year, Peterson and her family won Fair Family of the Year, for their continued participation in the annual event.

Peterson’s sons, Micah and Nathan, each "upcycled" an item that is featured in the 4-H Fair.

Photos: Micah and Nathan Peterson’s entries in the Elkhart County 4-H Fair

Nathan Peterson "upcycled" a bike into a new mailbox holder for the Peterson home.

Michah Peterson "upcycled" his great-great-grandfather's baby bed headboard and footboard into a sliding door.

“I think upcycling is a great way to save the environment as far as what we’re putting in the landfill, it makes you think about what could be used for something else,” Peterson said.

You can find Peterson’s newest "upcycled" item at the fair’s “Upcycling” Contest on July 26.

PHOTOS: Kris Peterson’s upcycled items

A pair of jeans "upcycled" into a hanging bird feeder

A set of curtains "upcycled" into a shirt

Scraps of denim "upcycled" into wall art

Entries must fit into one of three categories: home décor, clothing or arts and crafts. Participants will be divided into two different age groups: K-12 and 19 or older.

Registration for the contest begins at 10 a.m. on Friday in Heritage Park.

A People’s Choice Award portion of the contest will take place on Friday afternoon.

“Fair-goers can come in and they vote for their favorite thing. We have ribbons made out of denim so the ribbons are recycled too and upcycled,” Robinson said.

The contest is part of Green Earth Education Day, which runs from 10 a.m. until about 5 p.m. in Heritage Park at the fair on July 26. There will be educational booths and activities centered on sustainability available for fair-goers.

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