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Upcycling. What is it, how do you do it, and how it benefits our world.

April 7, 2010

Upcycling. Sounds like recycling, doesn’t it? The several people I asked about this word today actually thought it meant the same as recycling. And it doesn’t. It’s a fairly new term, first credited in its use by Reiner Pilz of Pilz GmbH in 1994 [1] during an interview he gave about the process of European waste systems.  “Recycling” said Pilz, “I call it downcycling. They smash bricks, they smash everything. What we need is upcycling where old products are given more value not less.”

More value. Let’s think about that for a second. How often do you throw away plastic shopping bags, old clothes, or anything else that you’re “done with” without giving it a second thought? Fairly often. Because you think, as we’ve been trained to think, that once an objects intended use is complete that it no longer has value. But what many of us don’t realize is that in this day and age we just can’t afford to throw things away – neither our wallets, nor our environment can afford that kind of waste.

There are some really cool and innovative ways for us to upcycle rather than throw away.  Take, for instance, one of the fans on our Facebook site. Just today she posted a link for us on how she is in the process of making a plarn bag out of old grocery store bags. For those of you not in the know, these plastic bags ARE harmful to our environment. In a National Geographic article in 2003, journalist John Roach notes that plastic shopping bags make up “80 percent of the grocery and convenience store market since they were introduced a quarter century ago”. These single use bags are made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and will take approximately 1,000 years to biodegrade.

In this day and age we have the smarts, the know-how, and a duty to make our world a better place. Since knowing is half the battle, we’ve started a list for you on how you can upcycle at home using things you would normally throw away.

  1. Shopping bags. Make a plarn bag, like our fan Christina Brady. Want to see how it’s done?  Check out this YouTube tutorial.
  2. Large glass bottles and jars make great planters, gift containers, and a lot more. See this great list of ideas for the ones that work for you.
  3. Yogurt containers. This is a great craft project for kids. Turn the containers into mini albums. Here’s a really cool video from that shows how to make this. (This video has some really great music, too!)
  4. Cardboard. You can make furniture from cardboard. No, really, you can.
  5. Old clothing. This, too, can be upcycled. Another Facebook fan, Sarah Bates, bought a sweater at a second-hand store, and used all the yarn to make her own shopping bag. See her pic below.

By upcycling, we generate less garbage, thereby minimizing our impact on the environment. Through upcycling we save money where we normally would have spent it. There are hundreds of ways to upcycle what you’re about to throw away. We want to hear your ideas. Did you make something? We want to know about it. And remember, you can earn points at EveryDayOneThing for your creations.
Thornton Kay, Salvo in Germany – Reiner Pilz, p14 SalvoNEWS No99 11 October 1994 [1]

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2010 11:57 am

    This was really well written. Thanks for sharing 🙂 I also wrote an article about upcycling a little while ago:

  2. Mike permalink
    May 16, 2010 3:03 pm

    That thrift store sweater – to – reusable market bag is amazing !

  3. May 21, 2010 10:43 am

    Thanks Mike! It is a cool story, isn’t it? The other day I saw a shopping bag knit from “yarn” made from strips of plastic from old shopping bags. Total upcycle if I ever saw one!


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