Reduce, reuse, recycle – this simple tenet has helped guide environmentalists and sustainability activists alike since its inception. But, more often than not, recycling alone is a matter of media focus. What about reuse? Or more specifically, upcycling?
What is Upcycling?
Upcycling, simply put, is the process of taking “junk” or low-worth products and turning them into something of greater value. When we recycle, we turn the product, most often through refinement, into another product; this sounds like upcycling, but the key difference is that recycling takes the product out of the cycle, turns it into something else, and then recycles it altogether. Upcycling turns it into something else, but without refinement. In other words, when you recycle, it changes the form of the object, but when you upcycle, the form stays the same.
So why do it?
It’s Easy To Do
Turning those bottle caps into unique earrings or that cheese grader into a pencil holder is easy. There are really just three basic steps: collect your resources, think of how to use them, and get to it! The nice thing about upcycling is that each wallet, chair, or piece of jewelry you make can be individualized. No need to worry about perfection!
Tied to our number one, upcycling promotes creativity. You’ve got the resources, now just get the inspiration and imagination to turn it into anything you want. This is part of the reason upcycling makes such a great activity for kids. I’ve always thought it would be a fun idea to go to a state beach, spend the day picking up trash, then using as much as one could in upcycling projects. It educates on environmental protection, and it shows that it doesn’t have to be some boring topic.
Another nice thing about upcycling is that with your new jewelry, wallet, or pencil holder, you don’t have to go out and buy any of those things. Since you made it yourself, it’s yours to keep! Why spend $20-30 on all of those things at some department store when you can spend the weekend having fun with friends or family making them? Frugal and creative – just what we need more of!
And Even Makes Money
And of course, you can always sell your upcycled products too. As a matter of fact, quite a lot of people are attracted to upcycled style goods. Consider setting up a booth at a market, if possible, or even schedule yourself a bi-weekly yard sale when you can showcase your products. For any daycare providers, you can even make a special activity out of upcycling – maybe a weekend special event – and have your group of kids upcycle products to sell to their parents. It will teach them some basics of business on top of environmentalism, and then they have a few dollars in their pockets and feel proud.
Saves Energy relative to Recycling or New Material Production.
Recycling requires shipping of waste, refinement, shipping new items back to factories to be reused, and then shipped again. Likewise, creating new products from scratch takes a long and energy intense process itself. Upcycling requires only the energy of the upcycler. The more we transition to upcycling – with whatever products we can – the less energy will be used.
Helps the Environment – the best reason of all
Tied to number 5, upcycling reduces energy need, it removes waste from landfills, and it supports the awareness and education of environmental principles and sustainability. Overall, this makes it a desirable practice for every community and the people within those communities. It’s hard to beat beautifying the environment while having fun, saving (and making) money, and educating ourselves and our youth.
Next time you think about throwing something away, stop and ask yourself, “What treasure can I turn this trash into?” You might be surprised.
For a great list of 100 upcycling ideas, check out Engineering a Better World blog.