One man?s trash
- We can simply dispose of it.
- We can REcycle.
- We can UPcycle it into something better.
When something is recycled, (a.k.a., DOWNcycled), it is broken down into something of lesser quality, which, ironically, consumes energy. On the other hand, when you take something and convert it from its original state into something new, not only have you conquered the newest method of repurposing, you’ve added value in the transformation/reinvention process, which leads me to my next point.
This creative technique is reinvigorating sustainability departments in Corporate America and is also earning a claim as the heartbeat behind a new business wave. This whole new industry sector shaping up around upcycling is ushering in a new wave of entrepreneurial innovation.
One of my first brushes with the process was grasping the concept of a celebrity chef, Mario Batali, teaming up with a company, Further, to make lotion and soap from his wasted grease.
Soon thereafter, while getting my fiancé’s bicycle repaired, I was curious to know what the shop did with the broken chains. I was informed they are repurposed into picture frames, and the shop is challenged to keep them in stock. (Why didn’t I think of that?!) Fast-forward to today, and its obvious that the recyclable and upcyclable materials are generating intriguing opportunities.
Let’s examine upcycling at the corporate level. We’ve all seen the candy wrapper woven wallets and purses, and I ask, do they truly meet a need?
The answer is yes, and it is fairly simple. They connect the sustainability dots you are projecting to the customer. The products provide function. And most important, they engage the customer. It requires a fair amount of creativity and understanding of what customers truly define as valuable, but this hip, cool type of product development is showing up frequently and literally picking up where recycling left off. Here are a few examples that bring clarity to my point:
- The Nike Reuse-A-Shoe program focuses on positive ways to make use of discarded sneakers. Tucson, Arizona, took notice and decided to integrate old sneakers into athletic surfaces for basketball courts and playgrounds. When used on existing athletic surfaces, the melted down shoe rubber creates a cushioned, springy, anti-slip cover.
- Terracycle, the upcycling company that turns trash into treasures, made used junk food wrappers cool. The New Jersey-based company upcycles waste packaging from Mars, Wrigley and Frito-Lay, converting it into all sorts of products like cookie wrapper pencil cases, drink pouch backpacks, Oreo wrapper kites and even foldable speakers made from Frito-Lay wrappers.
- Cup of Noodles — those familiar, non-recyclable, Styrofoam tubs of soup — are being upcycled in Japan into washable dishware. It began when a museum devoted to the noodles commissioned lacquer-ware artisans who discovered a paintable seal that coats and protects the Styrofoam, making it an inventive way to reuse an otherwise unrecyclable package while creating a memorable souvenir.
- Patagonia uses fleece made of plastic bottles.
- Hello Rewind, a self-sustaining social enterprise, capitalizes on sentimental one-of-a-kind products, and one of the most popular requests is taking customers’ T-shirts and turning them into laptop sleeves.
- Hermes, the luxury design house, uses leftover materials and damaged goods for creating new accessories and décor items. Upcycling efforts from the fashion house are responsible for a new division at the company.