MARQUETTE - Betty and Charlie Shirtz of Harvey don't hesitate picking up abandoned furniture from the side of the road. They welcome used work surfaces such as their church's old kitchen counter top. And old boxes never end up in the trash at the Shirtz home. In their mid-80s, the couple has been recycling and reusing items for many decades; at first not so much to be more environmentally friendly, but out of necessity. "I didn't think of it as recycling," Betty Shirtz said, adding that when she and Charlie were children - during the Great Depression - Charlie's father tore down old buildings and reused the materials to build new ones. Charlie's job was to straighten old nails. "It was hard times that made recycling necessary," Betty said. "We didn't have much to begin with and our families just learned to get along without much." Nowadays, the couple can afford to purchase new items, but prefer to recycle or reuse. They also realize the environmental benefits of their habits; less trash goes to the landfill and they are saving energy by not supporting the production and transportation of new items. In addition, they're saving money and are having fun being creative. "I enjoy doing it," said Betty, a retired art teacher. "It's a form of sculpture." While many people recycle in Marquette, Betty has gone a step further. She makes new things out of the old. For instance, she created office items such as filing folders, paper trays and shelf dividers out of old cardboard boxes. She also made a cardboard holder for plastic bags, which she also reuses. "For years I've been the pie maker for Thanksgiving, so I came up with this thing," Betty said, pointing to a rectangle box that can hold four pies on two levels with a Velcro fastener to keep the lid shut. When Betty's aunt was in the hospital and she had to take care of her aunt's legal papers, instead of buying a file carrier, she made one out of an old box. "We would need a notebook to store things in," she said. "We would take a piece of cardboard and cover it with wallpaper, and we made our own portfolios." She often uses the tops of boxes to make temporary display units. Betty used the display units when she showed her creative recycled items at Sunday's Going Green Community Fair at Marquette's Peter White Public Library. Betty does not spend energy and money to go to the store and buy a new item unless she has to. "Many times I think about what I can change into what I need," she said. When the couple does go shopping, they buy in bulk and then they reuse the larger containers to store things. Most of the Shirtz's furniture in their workroom is made from recycled pieces. A former double dresser serves as an art supply cabinet. An old plant rack holds paintings and the computer desk is assembled from recycled furniture parts. Betty said she and Charlie watch closely what is happening in the world in terms of global warming and the depletion of natural resources. "Things are getting really rough," she said.
Betty Shirtz, 83, of Harvey shows off the pie holder that she made out of recycled cardboard. (Journal photo by Miriam Moeller)