A Case For Upcycling

Have you ever felt guilty when you were throwing something away? That t-shirt with a stain or the jeans that don’t fit anymore, maybe it’s that stack of magazines you never quite got around to reading or the plastic bags that accumulate every time you go shopping. What if you could take those things and re-invent them making them useful again and maybe even better than they were before? That’s Upcycling. With a little bit of imagination people are making some pretty dramatic transformations with trash. Maybe you think upcycling isn’t for you but here are a few things to consider.

Universal – Trash is universal. We all make it. We all have it. We all need to get rid of it. Most of us are fortunate enough to have someone take it away for us. But if we take a minute to think about the things we throw away and reconsider their possibilities we just might realize that we all have access to some really cheap and interesting, raw materials and crafting supplies. There are people in the Philippines for example, lighting their homes with plastic bottles , a British artist remaking famous paintings using only recycled materials, and countless DIYer’s crafting unwanted stuff into new stuff every day.

Planet – There is a messy and heated debate going on right now about just how much damage we are doing to this place that some 7.5 billion of us call home but no matter which side you weigh in on it is indisputable that we humans have made a big impact on this earth. A lot of it has been good but some of it has not. And while you may want to blame big companies for the bulk of the damage, we are all contributors. It is estimated that in the US every person is responsible for making 4+ pounds of garbage every day. When I first heard that number I thought it seemed like a lot. Surely, I don’t make that much trash every day. Or do I? This brave girl decided to put that number to the test.
Much of our trash ends up in landfills but we have unfortunately turned the Pacific Ocean into our largest garbage dump.  Most of us will never see the tons of plastic trapped in the gyers and currents of our oceans and therefore it is easy to not concern ourselves very much over it. Even if, we are not concerned with the wildlife and the fact that some of the things we eat may be eating plastic, there remains the very basic question of rightness or wrongness. Is it right or wrong for us to allow trash to get into our oceans? What does your gut say? 

Conservation – is defined as the preservation or efficient using of resources and while we normally think of this word in relation to our environment, it can also be used in reference to economics, most importantly our own. Every time we choose to upcycle the conservation is compounded. For example, if you choose to re-finish your old table and chairs you can generally do it for a fraction of the cost of buying a new set and conserve your valuable resource of money but the conservation goes on from there. The planet saves the resources and energy that it would have taken to make you a new table and chairs and to transfer it several times until it reached its final destination. And let’s not forget all the packaging that a new table and chairs would require. This logic holds true for smaller projects as well even if you are just wrapping a gift in newspaper that will shortly end up in the trash you are still extending the life of the newspaper and conserving your money and the planets resources that would be required if you were to purchase new wrapping paper.

You – may not think that your 4 pounds of garbage per day matters much one way or the other but imagine what it would be like if you really had to be responsible for all of it. What if the garbage truck just stopped picking up your trash? What would you do with all that trash? Fortunately, we don’t really have to answer those questions because we have giant landfills. Here again you can find arguments on both sides. Those who say we are running out of space to put our garbage and those who say we have plenty of space. But maybe it’s not about whether or not we have enough space for our garbage maybe it’s about being conservative vs frivolous, smart vs thoughtless and cautious vs careless. There are lots of ways to reduce the amount of trash that we produce. We have all heard about Reducing, Reusing and Recycling. Upcycling is just another piece of that puzzle. It’s the fun piece. It’s the piece where we get to use our imagination.

Creativity – As humans we have the ability and the desire to create and to be creative. We can picture something in our heads and then make it come to life in the material world. If more of us start to see the potential in our cast-off items and to use them to make new things we have the opportunity to influence others to do the same. Maybe it has been awhile since you have made anything with your hands. Maybe you even believe that you are not creative or talented enough. But think back to one of your childhood art projects and the simple enjoyment it brought to make that thing. You know, before all the noise in your head started telling you it wasn’t good enough. Relax and remind yourself that everything you think and know you have picked up along the way.

Learning – We have the ability and the gift to continuing learning for our whole lives. There are thousands of books, blog posts and Youtube videos on upcycling from simple to complex projects. Take a look around and see what inspires you. Give upcycling a try. If you make something you like great. You might just unlearn that feeling of not being good enough. And if you stumble and don’t make something amazing on your first try, you have the comfort in knowing that what you were working with was headed for the land fill already anyway. Shake it off and try something else the best way to learn is by doing and one of the great things about upcycling is you can practice and learn using free items from your recycling bin instead of expensive items from the craft store.

Everyone – Maybe you still aren’t convinced that you should save all your toilet paper roles for some future craft project. Maybe you would just like to support those individuals, companies and communities that are making better use of their trash than sending it to a landfill. You can purchase a stylish and functional bag made from post-consumer plastic bags from HFR Designs, or send your empty juice pouches to teracycle . Maybe there is a Kickstarter or Indigogo project that you would like to support. Or maybe just maybe the next time you go to throw away a tin can or a cereal box you will ask yourself. I wonder what I could make with this? Collectively we do make a difference.

Upcycling Infographic