A few days ago, I was afforded the opportunity to give a presentation about upcycling to the Hellgate High School student body. A good part of the presentation covered why one might upcycle to begin with. While some of this may be self evident, I still think it is useful to examine a bit closer. So for what it's worth, four major reasons to upcycle.
Why do you upcycle?
Every day millions of tons of reusable material is disposed of. According to the EPA, Americans alone produce about 250 million tons of waste. The good news is that per person waste is on downward trend, decreasing from a high of 4.72 lbs per day in 2000 to 4.43 lbs in 2010, a value not seen since the 1980's. The bad news is the per person reduction in waste doesn't make up for population growth, so we currently produce more trash than ever.
Our trash cans don't need to be full. Over 30% of our waste is just the packaging wrapped around the objects we actually want to consume. Another 21% is non-durable goods designed to be used once or a few times and then thrown away.
There's a better way. In the coming weeks we will look at how we might reduce and reuse our way to an emptier waste basket. From most tossed to least we will examine paper, plastics, metal, textiles rubber and leather, wood and glass.
For now, some simple ways we can all make a difference. When eating out, eat what you order. If you must take leftovers, bring your own reusable containers. Buy out of the bulk bins at the grocery store. Bring your own coffee cup to the espresso stand. Purchase items meant to be reused, like cloth diapers, cloth napkins and cloth towels instead of paper.
Repair durable goods when you can. Consolidate your electronics. Together we can make a difference.
I’m home for the holidays, which means that I’ve spent a good portion of the last few days trying to explain to my grandmother what upcycling is. I’ve shown her my post-punctured bicycle inner tube laptop case, bottle cap earrings, and scrap metal jewelry but all she keeps saying is, “Oh yes, we did that in the war, too.”
Upcycling is not new, we all know that. Upcycling is something that we have always done out of necessity or creativity but now, alas, it has a name. We call the act of turning trash into treasure “upcycling” and we have learned that we can make a living wage doing so. It’s an exciting time to be upcycling, it’s an environmentally conscious and positive contribution we are making to the world. However, my grandmother likes to remind me that her upcycling experience was not so glamorous.
During and after World War II upcycling was the way my grandmother could afford to have the products she longed for while living in a refugee camp. She told me of how she deconstructed a knit sweater and fashioned it into a bathing suit for the summer months. Then in the fall she would take her bathing suit and re-knit it into her winter sweater. What imagination! What innovation! It makes me think of The Sound of Music when Maria took old curtains and sewed them into play clothes for Captain Von Trapp’s children.
In the 1940s upcycling was an indication of social class. My grandmother said that making Christmas ornaments out of newspapers was embarrassing not an intelligent example of eco consciousness. Breathing life into post-consumer materials, my grandmother and I agree, no longer symbolizes a lack of resources but an abundance of resourcefulness and the upcycling aesthetic is one that we appreciate.
There are so many individuals who are taking upcycling into the future. I see small businesses emerging with such enthusiasm and drive who singlehandedly are making upcycling a magnetic industry and practice. Nothing makes me happier than to see people learning to consumer differently and more efficiently.
Up and out,
Random musings, interviews and other prose...