I was introduced recently to the word ‘upcycling’. Upcycling is about finding new (and sometimes fairly innovative) uses for goods which may otherwise be thrown into landfill or recycled. Recycling requires energy & resources to collect, sort and process, and in the UK, 1.8m tons of clothing and textiles goes into landfill every year (that’s just clothing and textiles; the most useful ‘junk’ for upcycling).
The website http://www.upcycling.co.uk has plenty encouragement for budding upcyclers (upcyclists?) and illustrates the process with ideas such as turning an old woolly jumper into a cushion cover; stuffing an old sock with carrier bags to make a draft excluder; or making a comprehensive kids craft box containing old pens, egg cartons etc; or maybe turning an old book into a clock.
But it’s not these nano-level arts and crafts ideas that catch my imagination; it’s the contribution that this type of thinking can have on our consumption practices globally. I feel like there’s an attitude of ‘I recycle, so I’m doing my bit’, and that’s great for what it is. But as a civilisation, we consume far more than we can deal with, and we need to shift the paradigm of consumption towards every person thinking about stopping the goods being produced in the first place. Upcycling , freecycling, and the mantra of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ all help us get towards a closed-loop system.
I find this rethinking of ‘waste’ fascinating. Sure, it’s just putting a name on something that people do every day across the world, but adding ‘upcycling’ to the language of consumption can help people think about material goods in a new way; even if it’s only a few people changing their attitudes, it’s done a job. And hey; what about this bit of upcycling: a project which converted a Boeing 727 into some sort of tree-top house.
Nevermind the three ‘Rs’, how about just one: rethink.