Sustainability 101: Repurposing & Upcycling

by on July 26, 2011 · 4 comments

in Environment

Recently, I heard the term, upcycling, and was curious what it meant. I also wanted to determine whether, or if, it differed from repurposing.

It seems that these two concepts are basically synonymous. Repurposing may be as simple as cutting off the top of a plastic milk jug to make a planter for burgeoning aloe plants, or filling old wooden barrels with dirt and compost to plant tomatoes, onions, and squash. Upcycling may be just as simple in that it takes products that may not be as easily recycled and utilizes them to make new products. These include wine cork bulletin boards as well as juice pouch purses.

Both processes may involve just a step or two with only a few additional supplies such as exacto knives and glue, or they may require heavy equipment, trained personnel, and a considerable amount of acumen. Picture old railway cars and industrial storage containers that may be welded or otherwise connected to build homes, studios, and offices.

The old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention” definitely applies here. So, too, does the adage, creativity abounds. If someone can think up a potential re-use, deconstruct and re-construct it, then a product is born. It seems to me that baring toxicity and other health and safety factors, there is no limit to what may be repurposed and upcycled.

Take for example, the company, whose mission “is to help eliminate the idea of waste. “ How do they do it? “[B]y creating collection and solution programs for all kinds of typically non-recyclable waste.”

Train car converted to a house

Their “waste collection programs” are referred to as brigades, and they encourage site visitors to form their own. There is a free downloadable “kit” to get started that lists current brigades such as chip bags, tortilla and tostada packaging, and toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes. There are other items on the list, which also include more obvious upcyclables as cell phones, laptops, and digital cameras.

I first learned about this innovative company through a article, “Terracycle Upcycles Trashed Pens.” The article announced, “Sharpie, Paper Mate and EXPO have partnered with TerraCycle to collect and reuse pens, markers and other writing instruments in a way that helps schools, charities and non-profit organizations to raise funds.”

Since I think this is a great idea, and just in time for the fall semester, my daughter and I started going through our bins, and were amazed at how many of the felt pens were sans ink. In addition to better organizing our art supplies, we are now aware of what we do have, so we don’t purchase extra things we don’t need. Now all we need to do is visit to print out a pre-paid shipping label, then send them in.

Since this is just a little taste of what upcycles is “all about”, I look forward to your comments and ideas. Perhaps the OB community would like to start a brigade or two?


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Alissa July 26, 2011 at 9:13 am

I sell upcycled/repurposed items so I am obviously familiar with the terms, but I’ve never heard of that website. What a great idea! I am definitely down for a brigade.


Terrie Leigh Relf July 26, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Thank you for responding, Alissa. What do you make and sell? Website? Spread the knowledge!

Yes, a brigade sounds great. Let’s see who else is interested, and perhaps we can discuss it at our next OBRag meeting. Frank? Patty? et al? What do you think?



Terrie Leigh Relf July 26, 2011 at 6:27 pm

P.S. Love the accompanying images! That’s what needs to be done with heels!


Patty Jones July 26, 2011 at 8:36 pm

I thought you would appreciate that shot for sure!


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