by The Unnatural Resources Institute

Calling all tinkers and inventors, young and old! The 28th annual Unnatural Resource Fair will be held at the Greenville Convention Center from February 7-9, 2020. 

“The fair is a reuse competition to see what everyone can make from used resources,” explains founder Jacqueline Ponder. “North Carolina throws away enough resources to go around the world twice each year and 80% can be reused or composted.”

While many people are familiar with the “Reduce-Reuse-Recycle” approach to waste reduction, very few implement it with the intended hierarchy: REDUCE the amount of resources being used; REUSE resources possible; RECYCLE materials that cannot be reused. 

What many well-intentioned recyclers do not understand is that sorting recyclable materials for collection isn’t enough. In order for recycling to have the intended environmental benefits, companies must create products using recycled materials; in order for this to happen, using recycled materials must be cheaper than to using new materials—and this is not the norm across many industries.

Make Something!

The Unnatural Resource Fair encourages participants to use their imaginations and creativity to invent things using as much reclaimed material as possible. Submissions are entered into categories for judging: math, science, art, music, physical education, home use, language arts, tools, toys, and miscellaneous.

Entries must adhere to 4 rules:

• 80% recycled materials or more

• Safe

• No larger than a refrigerator (unless prior approval is received) 

• Battery operated (if possible, if electrical)

The Unnatural Resource Fair is free to attend, and there are no submission fees. Applicants ages 5 to senior citizens living east of I-95 are welcome.

Encouraging young people to invent using reclaimed materials fosters problem solving skills and creativity. Most inventions start with used materials because the inventor doesn’t want to spend money if it doesn’t work. The first airplane started with old bicycle parts.  The first Frisbee was a pie plate from the Frisbee pie company.

“Creativity is a learned skill,” says Ponder, “and practice makes perfect.”

History of the Fair

As a PTA volunteer in a science classroom, Ponder worked to acquire additional supplies through donations. Through a series of fortunate events, Ponder came upon a book about reusing materials for educational purposes. 

“In a few days it dawned on me, if we can make things out of discarded material for science, why can’t we make hands-on things for all the school disciplines?”

With approval from the principal, Ponder worked with the teachers and students to hold the first unnatural resource fair featuring 125 entries. 

“Working with the PTA Advisory board members, Connie Bond, and Jan Folsum, we had the first Pitt County Unnatural Resource Fair in the Ayden High School,” recalls Ponder. 

For the next 12 years, the UR Fair was hosted by The East Carolina Mall; following the mall’s closure, the event has been held at the Greenville Convention Center for the past 14 years.

Ponder established the Unnatural Resources Institute 501© 3 nonprofit in order to maintain the fee-free participation and entry. 

“We can’t work without sponsors,” says Ponder. “Sponsors are needed big or small for both the building and the awards. The institute has no paid employees. All money is spent on fair bills. We can use volunteers year-round for many small projects and donations are deductible.”

The Future of the Fair

Ponder’s vision for the Unnatural Resource Fair extends beyond salvaging materials for reuse, including displays from companies with recycled products to sell and equipment demonstrations from green-sector industries.

“The fair has the potential to become a 21st century planet sustainability fair with the unnatural resources competition as its core,” she says.  “It would be a fun way to teach planet sustainability to the public. We could invite people in solar and wind energy, clean air and water, ocean and beach cleanup, recycling, etc. as well as clubs and organization to participate.”

For the Unnatural Resource Fair to continue, Ponder calls upon the next generation of volunteers. 

“My husband and I are now 76 and needing more volunteers and supporters for this ongoing fair,” Ponder says. “Volunteering to develop the only unnatural resources fair for over a quarter of a century with Pitt County volunteers has been a joy and almost like a career. I want to send a big thanks to those resident volunteers and my family.”

Potential Materials for Reuse

• Building materials from home renovations

• Plastic, glass, and metal containers that would otherwise go to a recycling center

• Paper products – junk mail, newspapers, cardboard

• Tires and automobile parts

• Electrical components from broken lamps

• Cracked or chipped dishes and cookware

• Fabric scraps and worn out clothing

• Components from broken jewelry

• Just about anything!
Creativity is key!

For project ideas, entry forms, sponsor sheets, and more, visit or call 252-355-1039. If you already make products from recycled materials, sign up for a booth to sell you recycled wares! Vendor forms are also on the site.

%d bloggers like this: