Turning trash into treasure is pleasure for latest Net Zero Hero
Tracy Kerlin makes personalized, inexpensive gifts for friends using empty wine bottles as a base. Kerlin transforms the non-recyclable vessels into decorative lamps.

FORT POLK, La. (Jan. 16, 2013) -- What happens when a savvy crafter sees a beautiful item she doesn't want to live without? She runs with the idea, of course, and in the process earns herself the title of Fort Polk Net Zero Hero.

Tracy Kerlin, the latest of a succession of innovative community members to earn this honorary recognition, was surprised to find she had been nominated. In her eyes, she merely makes personalized, inexpensive gifts for friends. Using empty wine bottles as a base, Kerlin transforms the non-recyclable vessels into decorative lamps. Currently, glass recycling is not offered in the area.

Three years ago, Kerlin attended a craft fair on Fort Polk and purchased a glass-bottle lantern from a local artisan. Self-admittedly thrifty, she realized she could make them herself and give them as gifts. Since then, Kerlin has made about two dozen as presents for friends and family. She shares her knowledge with others, as well, by teaching a how-to class at the Fort Polk Main Post Chapel and showing her sister to upcycle the bottles into art.

"When my sister returned to Minnesota she suggested the bottles for my nephew's school fund-raiser," Kerlin said. His class made the lamps together as a project and then auctioned them off. "One bottle went for more than $100."

"Originally, I made the lamps as Christmas gifts, but they can be decorated to commemorate any holiday or fit any personality. I made one with a Halloween theme and set it out in October," Kerlin said.

Kerlin uses a drill to make a hole in the back of an empty wine bottle. "That's the hardest part of the entire project," she said. Other supplies include stickers, 20-string lights, glass paint, raffia, wire and beads. She has plans to embellish other types of bottles in the future.

"I try to purchase the lights right after Christmas, when they are on sale. The whole project costs less than $5 per empty bottle, which is great for people who are on a budget," she said.

Kerlin grew up recycling aluminum cans and has recycled throughout her adult life as a military spouse in recycling-friendly communities. "It's an honor to be considered a Net Zero Hero because I didn't look at the project that way," she said.

Page last updated Thu January 17th, 2013 at 09:13