Elevating Recycling to Upcycling
he old adage about one person's trash being another's treasure is becoming increasingly true as a growing number of artists and merchants are using yesterday's goods to craft the latest fashions. The practice is called upcycling. And as consumer demand grows for green products, making and selling upcycled items is turning into a cottage industry of artists and boutique stores. Upcycling is used on a range of upscale products including jewelry, furniture and fashion items. One of these new businesses pays 2¢ for each fruit juice wrapper collected. They’re made into kids backpacks and tote bags. Another pays $20 for your old leather coat, which is then trans- formed into high-end fashion purses. Upcycling is diverting tons of waste from landfills each year!
Upcycling refers to reusing an object in a new way without degrading the material it is made from, as opposed to recycling. Most recycling involves smashing, converting or extracting useful materials from a product and creating a different product or material, consuming addi-tional raw materials and energy. This results in additional air pollution, water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Due to its current marketability and the lowered cost of reused materials a growing number of companies are focusing on upcycling, although the trend is still in its infancy.
In developing countries, where raw materials are often expensive, people have effectively been upcycling for years, using old packaging and clothing in new ways. Upcycling is now taking off in countries, reflecting an increased interest in eco-friendly products, particularly ones that are priced at an affordable level that is still profitable for the manufacturers. Upcycling is used on a range of upscale products including jewelry, furniture and fashion items.
Inhabitat, a blog devoted to sustainability and design, holds an annual upcycling design competition. Entries come from around the globe.
Top photo: backpack made from used kid’s juice packs
Middle photo: Splart by Kent, Ohio artist Andreas Esparza
Bottom photo: Mystical Mirror by Kent, Ohio artist Nonnie Swan