Unlike Recycling, Upcycling does not need energy above and beyond the call of duty, but it does require some modification. It is also likely that when you are upcycling you are adding other items to the thing you are seeking to create.

Examples of Upcycling

  • Turning used tires into the soles of shoes
  • Melting plastic bags together to make an insulating internal layer for curtains
  • Cutting up an old T-shirt to make cleaning rags

Let’s put this into practice, how might you Upcycle an empty bag of chips?

To check your answer ask yourself if you or another person could do this with relatively little equipment.  If you’d need to send the object a great distance or use intense amounts of energy then you are probably thinking of ReCycling.  If the idea you have doesn’t require changing the shape or basic structure of the material then you are probably thinking of ReUse.  Upcycle on friends!

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When it comes to the best possible thing you can do with something once it has outlived its original use, nothing tops the charts like ReUse.

When you reuse an item you maintain its inherent value.  That is, not only the shape that it is in, but the energy that was necessary to make that shape does not need to get put into the process again. Of course, in order to do this you must find a new purpose for the item…

Some examples of ReUse:

  • Using broken bricks to line the edge of your garden
  • Bringing an empty glass jar to the store to fill up with something from the bulk section (make sure to have them weight it first)
  • A holey sock becomes a great applicator for oiling your cutting board
  • A Banana peel can be used to polish furniture before going in the compost

See if you can think of a way to reuse a torn T-shirt.
You can check your answer by asking yourself – Does this process require extra energy (time, effort, heat, etc.?)  If you answer yes, then you are probably thinking about Upcycling.  Upcycling uses the raw materials and with some added energy turns it into a new item.  Learn more about that here. If you answer, no, then you are well along your way to becoming a ReUse expert.

Freecycle is a great way to find a use for items that you otherwise might have to toss and many communities are now creating swap shops or reuse centers.  For more information about Zero Waste and ReUse please check out the Reuse Alliance.

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Over the years I have read Adbusters, participated in TV turn off week, and generally avoided brands. I prefer to shop locally. I prefer to find great independent clothing designers, such as those that can be found on Stars and Infinite Darkness, who are more often in line with my beliefs that the larger companies. My look is more unique because of this. Spending my money this way makes me happy because I feel like I am supporting a more diverse marketplace. I am the last person that you would expect to see wearing all the ‘latest’ fashion trends. Granted there are some things that currently can’t be purchased unbranded or lesser known because of functionality and quality, just like not every community can currently produce for all of its needs.

While helping out at the StartingBloc 2009 Institute for Social Innovation, the fellows and volunteers received a number of items. The one that caught my attention the most was from Terracycle; it was their Reusable Target Bag. Very cool concept- it is made out of multiple layers of old Target plastic bags that were pressed with heat. Should it rip in the future it can go back into their system and be fixed. Love the concept, but I would be less likely to use it because of the very visible and prominent branding. I did take the bag because I give away reusable bags that I collect over time to people who need them. I figured I would give it away.

Upcycled Target bag by Terracycle
Upcycled Target bag by Terracycle

Before I could give it away, one day it was the only bag in the car and I had to use it or take new plastic bags from the store. I felt self-conscious walking into the grocery store with a bright red and white bag on my arm, literally covered in targets. Walking up to the register the cashier made a comment about it being deer season, and we started talking. From there I was able to talk about Terracycle and the great things that they are doing with upcycled materials, the importance of buying local, why it is a good thing to reuse bags and rethink waste, et cetera. With what was initially something I dreaded, I found that I was able to initiate a conversation on a topic that I am passionate about and get more awareness out to someone because of the branding. My discomfort with the brand was greatly lessened by the more comfortable ease into an important conversation.

So while I will still support Adbusters, buy local, and stay as unbranded as possible, I appreciate the opportunity that that experience gave me. I have Terracycle to thank for that.

From this experience I take the lesson that if you are trying to get a message out, it helps to meet people part way and allow them to ask instead of preaching at them. This instance indicates to me that conversation is enabled when you are living lightly in a friendly manner. What do I mean by friendly? I mean acting in a way that allows for an opening for the questions to be asked. And what does that mean? Well, I think we need to really think about how we present ourselves and our opinions. If the way I present myself is off-putting, it makes those ideas more off-putting. Consider what this means for the expansion of going green, being sustainable and saving the environment.