Upcycling is a term that means reusing and repurposing an existing item. How it differs from the usual recycling is that the item often gets some form of ‘makeover’. Beauty, desirability, and marketability are still a chief concern for upcycling, but with all the associated environmental and financial benefits of recycling.
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Growing in popularity
Upcycling has originally been associated with smaller, independent brands or even individual collectors. Items would be purchased from stalls, sales, or online stores and then transformed or updated in some way. However, bigger brands and companies are now getting in on the action, with Starbucks, Adidas and tech companies largely being the front runners. There is a vast demand for products that are considered relatively disposable, such as coffee cups and clothing, or those that are regularly updated, such as smartphones and tablets. Finding a way to make the products or their raw materials reusable is an urgent concern. It is thought that it will not only reduce pressure on the environment, but will also help companies to become more ‘green’, or carbon neutral, and not face heavy fines for practices that harm the environment.
Starbucks has recently pledged to begin manufacturing chairs in its stores out of their old coffee cups, for example, and a number of fashion houses during Fashion Week used materials that had been upcycled or reclaimed. BBC News recently ran a story detailing the importance of upcycled clothing. Cheap, disposable clothing is often associated with a terrible strain on the environment, as well as poor conditions for workers, and so reclaimed clothing is considered more ethical and sustainable.
Form and function
The appeal of upcycled objects is not only environmental, but also aesthetic. They are often ‘one of a kind’ and can be considered vintage by collectors. Some businesses are even selling exclusively upcycled products, such as a popular reclamation yard in Ireland. Wilsons Yard is a family-owned company that restores and upcycles interior items, such as the cast iron baths depicted here: http://www.wilsonsyard.com/products/bathrooms/baths-new-cast-iron.html. Other companies are looking into ways to offer upcycled and reclaimed products alongside their regular lines, to create a better balance in their companies.
Across a range of industries, upcycling is gathering momentum as a viable strategy, and it has many advantages over a more disposable attitude to manufacturing.