As quilters in modern times, I think we are totally spoiled by the nifty tools of the trade. I love my rotary cutter, mats, and rulers just as much as I love my sewing machines. I confess I have worn a few of them out over the years. Wearing one out lets you try the newer, sometimes improved, versions. But it creates disposal issues as well.
Rotary Cutter Blades
The first things that I wore out were blades, of course. That was when I realized that one needs to be just as careful when disposing of blades as a nurse is when tossing a needle. Unattended blades can cut the garbage bag, or the garbage handler. They can sift down in garbage trucks and wedge in weird places. Or local hauler sent out a flyer a few years ago showing pictures of unidentified things that had been found wedged in their dumping gears. I quickly recognized a rotary cutting blade among them and hoped that it wasn’t mine.
Since that time, I have always stored my used blades in the plastic case that my new ones come in. When all the new ones are used, I trash the old ones securely in the plastic shell, which I actually over-wrap in some scrap cardboard. Our local metal recycler doesn’t want them for pretty much the same reason as the trash collectors–they get in the works! So off to the landfill they go, encased in plastic that will last hundreds of years. What an odd thought, all those pretty circles of metal sitting forever in the ground, and it seems so wasteful of precious materials.
I tried several ruler sizes before deciding that the basic 6×24″ was my favorite. I have some smaller ones, and a couple of square ones that are well used. But I have worn all the lines off of my oldest 6×24″ ruler. Only a few traces remain now, but it had both yellow and black lines at one time.
A ruler without markings is still a useful straight-edge, so I have kept it. When chalking out large grid lines, it will be useful (but for REALLY large ones I use a broom handle!) Many times you only want a ruler for drawing a straight line. It proved to be a great paper-tearing edge when wrapping Christmas gifts too.
But in quilting, those lines are my main cutting guide, so I need to be able to see them. Most quilters know, the lines on the ruler are usually more important than the lines on the mat. As my eyes have aged, I am even more aware that lines that are easy to read are a requirement. The original idea of the two-color lines was for universal use. On a dark fabric, the light lines showed, but the dark lines were important on a light fabric. There were a few particularly busy prints that are hard to see despite the two colors.
Which left me standing in the store comparing rulers. I was delighted to find one that featured crisp lines on a slightly frosted surface. I wandered the store with it in hand, testing it on several pretty bolts of various colors (Yes. I have been known to annoy store owners.) Not only did the surface ‘stick’ on the fabric better, but it made the lines easy to see on even the busiest print. I bought a better ruler, not just another ruler!
If I was not saving my old one for odd uses, I would have to toss it in the trash. No one seems to want to recycle hard plastics. Yet. We can hope!
Eventually I wore out a cutting mat. As a new quilter, I was over-attached to the lovely lines on the mat. I wore grooves in places, way beyond what one of those mat-cleaning tools could smooth out. As I learned to depend on the lines on my ruler more than the lines on the board, my usage improved, and my next mat lasted several years before being retired.
I used to wonder why they did not print them on both sides. Indeed, some do now, but over the years I have learned to use that blank side a ton, and extend the life of my cutting mat. Actually, after squaring my fabric up, I tend to use the blank side more than the print side now. Or I intentionally lay fabric on angles and cut using the ruler for the guide, avoiding the lines on the mat altogether.
By the time I hit my second worn-out mat, I was feeling some stress about simply throwing it away. I searched the Olfa and Dritz sites for info on recycling the mats. I found nothing, so I wrote to them. I got lovely replies back saying that mats should last a long time (well, they DID! Several years of constant cutting . . . I am a prolific cutter, I even cut for others.) I learned that the mats are made of a form of PVC plastic similar to plumbing pipes. They suggested that I contact my community recycling center for disposal ideas. I had donated my first worn-out mat to a paper-crafting friend, who is less particular about snags, but eventually it will end up in a landfill I suspect.
Since I do not like the notion of cutting mats and other plastics filling landfills for a thousand years, I did talk to both the recycling and the re-use centers. Locally, our recycling center is not accepting PVC, so they told me to put it in the garbage. The reuse center came up with ideas like cutting them down for coasters, or using them as mats under plants. I suspect that cute coaster made of old cutting mats are in short supply, and probably wind up in that garbage heap in the end anyway.
For now, I use my most recently well-sliced mat to protect my dining room table when doing small projects. When basting quilts on the table, I slide it along under so a needle that slips pokes the mat, not the table.
The Future for Recycling of Quilting Tools
I want to be a good steward of natural resources, and not depend on landfills for these items, so I hope we can find some solutions for disposing of them in the long run, as well as all the other household plastics we accumulate. There have been large experiments in recycling PVCs, but even the largest one I found in Germany seems to have been discontinued. My local recycler says it has to do with the cost of processing vs. the demand for the new form of the item. While plastic soda bottles have been converted to polyester carpets and fleece fabrics for some time, many other items just wind up in the trash.
I am torn on where to lobby on these issues. The recycling agencies only work with things that are in demand. Many mat manufacturers now print on both sides, which might extend the lifetime of a mat for many quilters. I find myself wondering if the people who make the mats could one day recycle them into new mats. If any of you have found workable solutions please share with us all! Indeed, the collective power of all us quilters might be a loud enough voice to drive someone into action on this.
But I do not want to backtrack to scissors either. In some parts of life I can make a conscious choice to avoid plastics, or plastic packaging. This does not seem to be one of those areas. I will use my mats and rulers until they are so grooved or the lines so worn off that their accuracy is gone.You might also like: The Invention of the Rotary Cutter Changed Quilting
Great tips on using a rotary cutter correctly: Rotary Cutting Tutorial from The Purl Bee