• http://greenupgrader.com Matt Embrey

    Great point Becky. I know I’ve been guilty of slaughtering the meaning of that word on occasion. It’s actually starting to drive me nuts when I hear it used to describe something that amounts to “downcycling” like the Bic pen chandelier. Sure if all those Bic pens were rescued from the landfill it could be considered upcycling, but most likely they are perfectly good, new pens. So they are taking something novel and useful and turning them into something of lesser value and not reducing consumption.

    This also touches on the debate over the inherent value of art. The term upcycle is often used in the context of craft/art. Many would argue that making art from plastic bottles is giving them greater value, but the other side would argue that it’s not a greater value… to the environment then recycling those bottles into a useful raw material.

    • http://glueandglitter.com/ Becky Striepe

      That’s an interesting point! I almost feel like that’s sort of a case-by-case situation. Or maybe material-by-material?

      Since plastics especially end up of lower quality after recycling, maybe keeping those out of the waste stream all together is more valuable than the plastic itself? But if you’re talking about something like copper, which has a pretty high inherent value just as a metal, maybe that’s better off recycled.

      But there’s also the question of that piece of art’s life cycle…what happens to it when the customer decides it’s time to change her decor?

      The whole thing is really tricky! It’s giving me a lot to think about.

  • http://upxchange.com Autumn Wiggins

    I would consider reuse to apply to items that can be used over and over again for the same or similar purpose without any major modification or deconstruction.

    Pretty much any post-consumer object a crafter or artist might use in their work I think can be considered upcycling. If you upcycle something that is recyclable, as long as it can be deconstructed with the recyclable components intact, I don’t see any reason to discourage it.

    The book Cradle to Cradle is heavy on utopian concepts. Yes, there are practical examples, but also very large gaps in explaining how we get there… the authors’ expertise is limited.

    That’s why I think much more attention should be paid to how creative individuals are utilizing waste, as imperfect as it is right now. Companies that produce consumable goods might find a market in acknowledging upcycling as part of the product life-cycle, and make design considerations to improve and expand those possibilities.

    Leave the technological issues of infinitely recyclable and biodegradable substrates to the chemical engineers. Crafters are playing a very early role in developing “industrial nutrients”.

    What happens when styles change? Well, there is something of a cycle, 30 years or so till you hit vintage status. Artisan objects are especially coveted…I doubt mass produced items (of today’s standards) will ever be.

    • http://glueandglitter.com/ Becky Striepe

      So you sort of consider reuse and upcycling interchangeable? I guess that’s the thing I’m stuck on. It feels like upcycling means more than just reusing.

      I think you’re totally right….they are utopian concepts, especially from an art/craft perspective. Where large companies have the budget to do R&D and develop Cradle to Cradle products, it’s trickier for someone with limited means.

      Thanks, Autumn! I like your optimistic outlook. I think this book is putting me in that dark place a little bit, and it’s nice to be reminded that crafters are doing something extraordinary.

  • Liz

    First I should say that I’ve never read the book, so consider this personal opinion rather than informed discourse, but I think something can go from upcycled to trash during any phase of it’s life cycle depending on what the user does with it. Just because something *can* be useful doesn’t mean it always is useful – I hate the idea that recycling or reusing something might get second class status just because it’s not as overarching as the concept of upcycling. That reusable packing material tv stand can be thrown away just as easily as the plastic bottle light fixture when decor is changed.

    If you take that pillow case and make it in to a skirt and then make that skirt into an apron and then make that apron a dishtowel and then make that dishtowel a pot holder (as each iteration of the item maybe wears down enough that it has to be changed), isn’t the recycling and reusing just as low impact as taking that packing material and turning it in to a tv stand?

  • http://www.paystolivegreen.com Patrick

    It seems very difficult to differentiate the difference between upcycling and reuse and recycle. I think all three are important in our lives. Sometimes when we get caught up too much in the meanings of particular words, we can lose the whole point of what we are trying to accomplish. We want less waste in landfills and to get more use out of items. Regardless of what it is called, it will help us live more sustainable lifestyles.

  • Jet Tenley

    I try not to use plastics at all…not even saran wrap. Though using freezer paper to store foods I’ve cooked in bulk, I use pyrex casserole dishes and such to store most of my pre-cooked foods. Yes, I cook huge pots of stew with tons of vegetables grown in my own garden, fertilized by my sheep and alpacas that only get medicines and pest control if they do indeed need it. I also give fertilizer to my neighbors to encourage them NOT to use fertilizers that they don’t need to use. Unfortunately in the Walla Walla Valley, there are too few of us who believe in all these Green concepts and many times we feel alone too. We don’[t eat meat often, but when we do, they’re animals we’re raised and have gotten too old to produce. Yes, they may be a bit tough, but that’s what stewing and making soup is for…makes it less tough. The good thing about this is that they don’t have much fat, far less than grocery store fare, and they are mostly muscle because they have room to run and eat grass and the omnivores here (can you say Chickens) eat the bugs, weeds, and anything else that happens into their incessant pecking to keep their bellies full. Guess what folks, no mosquitoes, ticks, etc. because they chickens eat them before the animals and humans become prey for the parasites. Even slugs will be eaten by the chickens. Let me make this clear…we do not eat our alpacas. We do eat mutton, though because our sheep aren’t fat and grian fed, they don’t taste muttony. I took that into account by raising Icelandic sheep that are very efficient as far as sheep go and their meat, even at 6 years of age still taste like yearling lamb. I raise my animals for fiber, feathers, and every part of the animals are used when we do butcher them, which isn’t often. As we don’t eat tons of meat, one sheep lasts a long time. Times are changing and we will not be the minority…as the population continues to age and the old school group drops off the face of the earth (which is my generation, btw, which makes me extremely unusual in my age group), the new kids on the block will be using what those of have learned the hard way…use, reuse, recycle, upcycle–it doesn’t matter…upcycling will see it’s own day coming in the near future…People will understand that just like they understand raveling old sweaters to make new items. It will become old hat because EVERYONE is doing it. It takes at least 2-4 generations before the majority gets on board. I grew up wanting to be a hippie and get back to the land, grow my own food and animals and unless the city people realize it, the government is going to screw everything up with the Identification tracking systems for animals right now, but soon it will be people also. People will have less variety of food in the next 20 years and they’ll wonder why…it’s because city people don’t understand what the real food chain is. If the farmers aren’t there to raise heirloom veggies, you aren’t going to get them. The Government even wants to outlaw home gardens and the seeds companies are the ones lobbying for it. I sure hope I’m dead and gone before that happens–they won’t take my garden until they pry it from my cold dead fingers, to paraphrase the NRA.

    I got on my soapbox regarding many issues that are part and parcel of being green and what that means to me…sorry about that…sort of. ;D

    The main point is this:

    We hear you and YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!!