Guest Post: How spare parts saved me from my trashy habits

Laura Carter

Laura Carter

Laura Carter is a writer, blogger, social media maven and nonprofit aficionada. She spent six years at the San Antonio Area Foundation and her blog “Beyond Paychecks” ran online bi-weekly at the San Antonio Current from 2010-2013. Carter recently retired as Communications Director at Providence Catholic School. In addition, to serving on spare parts advisory committee, she works with Blessed Sacrament Academy on Mission Road, is a member of the TEDxSanAntonio communications committee and contributes to the community journalism project NOWCastSA.

It’s no secret, I am a huge fan of the organization spare parts, and its founder/director Mary Elizabeth Cantú. I first met Mary in January of 2012 at a social media workshop. With a degree in elementary education from Mount Holyoke College, she is a smart, talented young woman with a passion for art, education, environment and collaboration. 

Not being artsy crafty in anyway, the spare parts basic message by artist Aaron Kramer–“Trash is the failure of imagination”–intrigued me. My take away–stop throwing away stuff that can be reused, repurposed or given a new life through art by the creativeness of artists and/or students in the classroom. 

After realizing our throw-away society holds many hidden resources, and just about anything can have a second life, I began making changes in the way I viewed prospective trash. I no longer threw anything away without first evaluating its possibility to become something useful. Now, I don’t mean garbage, like food stuff or the things in the cat litter box. I’m talking about all kinds of paper, boxes, glass and plastic containers, old art or sewing supplies, toilet paper or paper towel rolls and many other items we toss without giving a second thought. 

Kitchen Island

Kitchen Island. Photo thanks to Laura Carter.

Before I buy a new household item such as drawer organizers, I looked at things I had around the house and found that shoebox lids make great tool and utensil trays. As much as possible, I reuse glass and plastic containers. Toothbrush holder–an old vase. My husband, who I’ve always deemed a hoarder of sorts, is ecstatic I nag him less about the garage full of all matter of ‘things saved to use later’. And, I love this kitchen island (left) he made from an old dresser with tiles and drawer knobs from the Habitat store, and garage sale stained glass panels. 

Trying to stay environmentally-friendly when we do purchase new items, we give pause to consider can the packaging be recycled. Is the container reusable or even biodegradable? We use only reusable bags for groceries and don’t purchase water in individual plastic bottles. We  buy water from the Windmill kiosks and fill reusable bottles at home. Paper towels were replaced by cloth towels. Milk cartons make good plant starter containers. I learned to make a natural cleaner from vinegar, liquid dish soap and baking soda. 

Anything that looks promising but, I can’t figure out how to use, is saved for the annual spare parts materials giveaway for San Antonio teachers. Over the years, hundreds of teachers have taken boxes of seemingly dead supplies to be resurrected by their students into fun, creative art work.


Art educator Anika Blanco. Photo thanks to Chris Castillo.

Art educator Anika Blanco. Photo thanks to Chris Castillo.

Coincidentally this year’s giveaway is coming up on Friday, August 1st from 10:00am to 2:00pm at the Wonderland Mall of the Americas. A Fine Arts Fair in conjunction with the giveaway will provide family-friendly arts information and projects.

There is an opportunity to volunteer for this fun and worthwhile organization to help receive and sort donations at Wonderland Mall of the Americas on July 29 and 31 from 1:00pm to 6:00pm. Bring some stuff and stay a while to help.

Mary is an artist, educator, inspiration and innovator. She changes the way we view trash  through spare parts‘ campaigns and educational workshops. If each of us changes our habits even a little we can make a difference.

Fine Arts Fair – August 1, 2014

Designed by Robert Tatum & John Mata

Designed by Robert Tatum & John Mata

7/10/2014 IMPORTANT UPDATE: Online teachers registration is closed. We have registered 100 teachers for the materials & supplies giveaway portion of the Fine Arts Fair IN RECORD TIME. Teachers may register onsite at 9:30am on August 1 for $15 as there might be spots available from registrants who decide not to attend.

Another option: from 12:30-1:30pm all materials & supplies must go! Everyone including the general public is welcome to take all they’d like on August 1 from 12:30-1:30pm.

The need to support the creative community, especially our PreK-12 grade educators, is overwhelming. Spare Parts is a volunteer effort & it’s primary goal is to become a full-time organization. Please donate to our efforts today. Your gift is tax deductible.


OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE – August 1, 2014 spare parts 4th Annual Fine Arts Fair at Wonderland of the Americas

On Friday, August 1, 2014 from 10am-2pm at Wonderland of the Americas, PreK-12 grade teachers & the public will celebrate arts education & the environment at the 4th annual Fine Arts Fair. The public is invited to participate in the Fine Arts Fair activities including: enjoy music, engage in art activities, visit the award-winning spare parts MINI ART MUSEUM, take a picture with Spurs Jesus & support local artists as they sell their arts & crafts.

“We are so excited to be hosting this event once again,” said Victoria Hernandez, Marketing Director for Wonderland of the Americas. “We believe fostering arts and creativity in children and teenagers is essential for the growth and advancement of our community, which is why we love working with spare parts and supporting their cause.”

San Antonio-based artist, Robert Tatum will be creating easels partly from found objects on site & hold kids finger painting sessions funded by the non-profit Art Star Academy. Art Star Academy is a non-profit, a subsidiary of SAFILM. Donations to Art Star Academy were made possible through the sales partnership of Tatum Originals’ Pray for Spurs products & Spurs Jesus products sold over the Spurs post season run. Spurs Jesus will also be available for photos with teachers, students & the public. “This effort is to give back to the community,” said Tatum.

Teachers will have access to materials & supplies collected by spare parts from donations by numerous business, organizations & individuals. Teachers must register online for the materials/supplies giveaway & the deadline is July 21 although they may register on site August 1. Register below.

Organizations may also setup an information table. Register below.

Artists & vendors who utilize at least 80% reusable, repurposed or recycled materials are invited to sell their work or items at the August 1 Fine Arts Fair or organizations that support the arts & the environment are also encouraged to participate. Please email to learn more about this opportunity. The deadline is July 21.

Materials & supplies donations will be accepted beginning July 21 at Wonderland of the Americas. Click below for more information.


artist & vendor registration
Volunteer Sign Up

organization registration

donation information


spare parts fine arts fair sponsors



What’s Black, White & Read All Over? Creative Ways to Reuse Newspaper!

Newspaper Building Logs

Newspaper Building Logs. To create very sturdy & tight newspaper tubes, we stacked on top of each other 2 full sheets of the Current and rolled them tightly. Use any kind of tape to secure the “logs.” Then connect them using a stapler or more tape. Build away!

Newspaper Hats! Remove the staples from the Current and tape 2 together long ways. Mold the newspaper around your friend's head and tape it securely so that it fits to size. Then get creative! Look at these 2 different hat examples.

Newspaper Hat directions: remove the staples from the Current and tape 2 together long ways. Mold the newspaper around your friend’s head and tape it securely so that it fits to size. Then, get creative! Look at these 2 different hat examples.

pinterest - paper reuse

Click here for over 200 more ways to reuse paper!

Top 10 Ways to Reuse Your Stuff this Earth Day

Hiya, this is Amy from Maker Mama. Earth Day is here, and today I’m sharing my favorite ideas for reducing waste and getting your make on. Here are my Top 10 Ways to to Reuse Your Stuff this Earth Day:

Manipulate a cardboard box into a unique wall lamp with this fun video tutorial.

Use the rest of your box for some upcycled wall clocks by Pysselbolaget.

Save old duct tape rolls to make embroidered bangles.

  Turn your brown bag stash into a set of notebooks in just five minutes.

Plastic liter bottles make for super cute kitty planters.

 Dress up large tin cans and boxes in to upcycled utensil holders for the kitchen (or your desk).

Give those holey jeans new life as a knitted throw pillow.

Ditch the plastic and make your own produce bags using colorful T-shirts instead.

Or make a crocheted T-shirt rug.

And my favorite creative reuse idea? Turn any plastic bags you do have into plarn–perfect for any knit, crochet, or weaving project you can dream up!

Thanks for having me Mary, and I hope you’re all inspired to get creative this Earth Day!

San Antonio Current Feature: DIY Fiesta Flair with Spare Parts

The spare parts creative reuse team got together at 10BitWorks Hackerspace to show off their festive side in honor of Fiesta San Antonio. This is just the tip of the sausage on a stick so check out more DIY creative reuse ideas featured by Bryan Rindfuss of the San Antonio Current you can incorporate into your party attire. May your Fiesta be fun, safe & eco friendly!

Here are more fiesta craft ideas courtesy Maker Mama!

Learn more about Fiesta in San Antonio. It’s a big deal. It’s even a school holiday.


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