Upcycling: Something that we must all do (again)

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The reason for the “again” in the title, the headline, is because we all did it once, or at least our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did. It only wasn't called upcycling back then and it was the common thing; everyone did it.

While upcycling firms like Terracycle, and others, smaller ones, do a great job on a large scale, or not so large but still commercial scale in the case of the smaller firms, with the various items of waste – and some of the products are what smaller upcycling crafters did before – each and everyone of us must do his or her part by upcycling waste at home, at school, at the workplace, etc.

By doing this our waste generated can be significantly reduced. On top of this using our things for longer also helps on another level.

Upcycling, the reusing and repurposing of waste, was once, as said, very common indeed. Everyone did it and that simply because they did not have enough money to buy everything and they also knew that they had, in fact, paid for the items of waste they decided to reuse and repurpose. Many things that we toss out today, often thoughtlessly, has a great value for our parents and grandparents and their parents and grandparents.

Our ancestors, basically, all did this reusing of items of “waste” as they came or, alternatively, by repurposing and reworking then into something for their use.

They all were avid reusers, repurposers and upcyclers and this was due to necessity as much as borne out of an understanding that that which they could make from “waste” they did not have to buy and thus spend money on.

Nowadays many, if not indeed most, people seem to have lost this sense though. Instead of reusing say a clean tin can as a pencil bin for the desk they rather go to the store and buy and recycled steel pencil bin and toss the tin can.

The same is true as regards to glass storage jars. They will put clean glass jars from produce into the glass recycling bin and go out and spend $15 or more on a set of two “recycled” glass storage containers. This does not compute.

People need to be taught, it would appear, what came almost natural and instinctive to previous generations. I think that this really shows how, over the last quarter to half a century, we have become a totally consumption orientated society in Britain and in other Western nations, to the detriment of our wallets and especially the Planet. Consumerism is also doing more; it is destroying the very fabric of our society. But I have digressed a little, yet again.

We must come to understand – those at least that don't as yet – that we cannot afford to run and buy each and every time and send perfectly good things, that could be used for what we buy, into landfill or, as the case may be, for recycling.

To our ancestors things, even things that far too many today think of just as “waste”, had a value. Maybe this was also due to the fact that there was a refund deposit on bottles, from milk bottles to ginger beer and beer bottles and everything in between.

Only when there was really no way and place for any more glass jars, etc., to be of use around the home, the farm, etc., did most of the old ones every even think of throwing such things away. And the same is true fort so many other things.

Baling twine from bales of hay and straw was kept and reused and the real thrifty ones would make sure that they unties it rather than cutting it. Sometimes this twine was even used in lieu of a belt to hold up the pants or to hold together a coat at the waist. Many an old farmer or farm laborer could oft be seen wearing such a “belt”. Sting like that is also extremely useful in the garden and was definitely a resource too valuable to be wasted for our ancestors and should be thus also to us.

Today's baling twine is a “plastic” material – I must say that I do not know whether it is nylon or something else – and thus it is not good if it gets into the environment and I do doubt whether it can be recycled at all. So, reuse is best in this case, as in so many other cases, and the most sustainable thing to do.

Reusing, repurposing and upcycling must become the norm, rather than the exception, once again. We just cannot continue to produce all those things to fulfill our wants and then only to toss those good out a few months later or a year or so. This is simply not sustainable.

Many an item of waste, especially packaging waste, can easily be reused, repurposed and upcycled into something for use that you then do not have to buy.

While this idea may not be all that good for the economy, as far as growth is concerned, it is for the Planet. I addition to that, the good of the Planet,. Which is very important indeed, it is also very good for your wallet and is, therefore, a total win-win situation.

While not, in itself, falling under the upcycling banner, we must also and especially reconsider how we go about replacing things that still work perfectly.

All too many seem to think that every six months they “need” a new cell phone despite the fact that their “old” one still works perfectly well and does all that a phone needs to do. It is a phone, dummy! It is not a netbook PC.

The same is true with computers where way too many replace their PCs, Laptops, etc., on about an annual basis. They “need” the newer version, they say. Why? Simply because it is available. In most cases their old computers still work fine. On the other hand, software producers, with Microsoft in the lead, create their programs in such a way that after a couple of years you indeed NEED a new computer as the new software no longer works on the older machines, the older hardware.

The great majority of “obsolete” computers would work perfectly well for many, many years to come with the appropriate Open Source software, operating system and applications, such as Linux, and Open Office, etc.

We DO NOT need new all the time and often the older stuff, properly looked after, is much better than new and the same goes for repurposing and upcycling in DIY.

© 2011