What is Upcycling and how is it sustainable?
There are many different ways in which we can reduce our impact, cut down waste and lead more sustainable lifestyles.
From recycling correctly so that there is no waste in recycling centres to reusing products that we already have or other people no longer want to use, there is one concept that elevates the idea of recycling and sometimes complements it until we have fully efficient and closed recycling systems: that is Upcycling.
What is Upcycling?
Upcycling is reusing discarded objects or materials to create a product of higher quality or perceived value than the original.
Very often those discarded materials would have ended up either polluting our environment, sitting in the landfill for potentiallly hundreds of years or going into the recycling process to become what it could have became with less resources through the method of upcycling.
For example in the fashion industry this means reducing cloth and textile waste by reusing deadstock or gently used fabric to create new garments and products.
Both pre-consumer and post consumer waste can be used, or a combination of both to make new products that have saved valuable resources and turned them into valuable products ready to be used again.
Where does the concept of Upcycling come from?
The term upcycling was first used in an article written by Thornton Kay in 1994, published in Germany. They expose the broken recycling systems and argue that instead of smashing up bricks, which they call downcycling, we should give more value to products and not less, hence introducing the idea of upcycling.
Later publications and books started to look at upcycling as a way of reducing valuable resources, reducing energy usage, air pollution, water pollution and even greenhouse gas emissions.
It took time for the concept to start resonating around the world but with the help of social media and new technologies people could teach and show other people around the globe how to turn coffee beans into body scrub or food pots into plant pots for example.
Upcycling is a method that is vastly used in developing countries as it is clear for communities in these countries that nothing should be wasted and everything around has a value and can have a purpose. It is in the last decade that the concept has been welcomed into developed countries to meet the demand for more sustainable products, sustainable collections of clothing and these products have been given environmental and even artistic value.
Environmental Benefits from Upcycling
- Saving valuable materials from landfill. Many creative and innovative artists, brands and business reclaim old things that were on their way to the landfill to make with them products with stories behind and with higher value. This saves carbon emissions, pollution through soil absorption and harm to biodiversity.
- More efficient use of natural resources. The idea of upcycling means we use existing resources already produced and processed, so we don't have to use any new ray materials in the production process.
- Lower emissions. From extraction to transport, going through manufacturing the environmental emissions of green house gasses is much lower if the products are made using near by upcycled materials saving many of the processes used otherwise like the extraction of crude oil, cutting of trees or the emission of CO2 from transporting these materials around the world.
Applications of Upcycling
Upcycling for Art
Many cities around the world feature pieces of art dating back as early as 1921, where for example Simon Rodia's Watt's Towers in Los Angeles they upcycled scrap metal, pottery and broken glass to make large structures that offered the citizens art to contemplate and enjoy instead of piles of scrap materials.
Other artists, like Romuald Hazoumé, have used Upcycling as a way to express the disagreement with a society that consumes more than they need and fall prey to the the marketing strategies of only profit-seeking business in rich countries.
Upcycling for Food
Millions of tonnes of food are thrown away every day around the world. Making use of this food to give them a higher value and promote consumption of these is a way to prevent food from reaching its most likely destination, the landfill. In the landfill food will just take long to decompose, producing unnecessary green house emissions and not feeding the soil. Instead of this through the use of food not safe to eat to make compost that later on can be used to make productive soil richer in minerals and nutrients is a way of turning food waste into valuable part fo the agricultural process. Did you know that many of the shells of coconuts are thrown away after taking the juice and fruit out? We think is much better to upcycle to make for example sustainable coconut bowls, like these upcycled coconut bowls.
Upcycling for Clothes
In our society we are used to practice linear economy. In this way we buy, use and then throw away. This system wastes millions of kilograms of textile material that required water and valuable resources and produced GHG in the production process. Upcycling is a way of reducing this inefficiency and unsustainable way of consuming, by promoting the use of offcuts, broken clothes and materials to make other products that someone gives more value to and this way give another life to what was about to go to waste, working in this way towards a circular economy.
Upcycling for Cosmetics
Have you ever considered what happens with the thousands of tonnes of spices that are used in the food and cosmetic industry? They are often sourced from growers that produced them solely for this purpose creating plenty of waste around the cosmetic industry, on top of the already questionable testing practices and wasteful packagings. Purpose-driven brand UpCircle is innovating and exposing the cosmetic industry by Upcycling coffee grounds from artisan coffee shops in London, seed and spices upcycled from the syrup and food industry to make wonderful cosmetics that bring to your skin a whole different level of freshness, shine and wellness. All while promoting fair working conditions, supporting local businesses and farmers, selling their products in recyclable plastic free packagings and without any animal products nor testing. Upcycling is the future and UpCircle is the proof of it.
Now you have the knowledge, the solutions and the power to implement this change that makes a big difference to our planet and for the health of life on earth. Make sure to teach and share what you learn along the way, because together we are the solution!
Join us at @weterrazero and @terrazerostore to share the good vibes!