Upcycling – not just for the amateurs

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Everybody has heard of recycling in this day and age and most people have heard of upcycling but I have to (shamefully) admit that before I visited Ecobuild this year I hadn’t realised just how big the concept was, despite it being around for over a decade.

Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of a better quality or higher environmental value. The first recorded use of the term was in 1994 when Thornton Kay of Salvo interviewed Reiner Pilz of Pilz GmbH.

“Recycling? I call it downcycling. They smash bricks, they smash everything. What we need is upcycling, where old products are given more value, not less.”

When you think about it, you’ll probably realise you’ve been upcycling for years without realising it, the box you’re using as a CD rack, the old CD’s that you’re using as coasters, or even the fairy liquid bottle that the kids turned into a work of art (with a little help from Neil Buchanan, Art Attack and copious quantities of PVA glue).

Away from the domestic side of things, many companies specialise in ‘upcycled’ pieces or produce one off upcycled products.

Bel & Bel, expert Spanish upcyclers with a contemporary/vintage style recreated vintage Vespas as seats.

Vespa Seats are made from upcycled 'dead' Vespa scooters. Picture from belybel.com. ©bel&bel.

&made Studio created the Lost & Found range of furniture from salvaged furniture pieces and felled tree trunks.

Lost & Found upcycled stools. Pic from and-made.com

Lost & Found table by &made Studio. Pic from and-made.com

Junktion in Tel Aviv, similarly to Bel & Bel only produce upcycled products, working with objects that others might consign to landfill. The amount of work done to each individual piece depends on the original structure. At the high-end of the scale is the company’s ‘Chopper’ seat, made from an old chopper bicycle, which obviously required a lot of manipulation but to great effect.

Red bike chair made from an old Chopper by Junktion. Pic from junktion.co.il

We’ve seen upcycled bicycles as furniture before on the ESI Interiors blog. How do you think they compare to the Junktion model?

At the other end of the scale there are old wooden pallets that are perfect for tidying up the clutter of shoes that could be littering your hallway, and require little or no manipulation.

Pallet shoe rack by Junktion. Pic from junktion.co.il

I think my favourite example of a company in the upcycling business is probably the Korean designer outfit, Uncle Oswald is My Hero, who have a pretty unique company mission, according to an official press release on their blog.

It would be a different kind of design company. First, the company would have nothing to do with money. In fact, losing money would be encouraged, as long as everyone involved was having a good time. More importantly, their company had to have the name “Uncle Oswald” in the title. Therefore, “Uncle Oswald is My Hero” was founded to fulfill these lofty goals. For the memory impaired, it is also acceptable to refer to the company as “Uncle Os”.

I stumbled across the company while I was browsing through the exhibitor list for this years 100% Design show. Their first product is a rather delightful speaker set for MP3 players called the Drayfuss.

Drayfuss MP3 player speakers by Uncle Oswald is My Hero. Pic from uncleoswald.wordpress.com

The Drayfuss speaker is made from upcycled Henry Drayfuss telephones, which were made from Bakelite, an early type of plastic that doesn’t degrade.

Unfortunately the Drayfuss speakers aren’t available worldwide yet but it’s hoped they will be in production by 2012.

Consigning something to landfill should be a last resort in today’s ‘eco-crazy’ world, so here’s a few upcycling ideas for things that are more often than not just chucked in the recycling, or lying around the house. If your not the arty type you could google some ideas, or for the bigger things like sofas and cabinets, if you really don’t want them then free-cycle them. As they say, one person’s junk is another’s treasure.

DIY upcycling wine bottles into gas lamps. Pic from greenupgrader.com.

To find out how to make your own wine bottle gas lamps visit greenupgrader.com.

Instead of recycling old drinks cans make them into models like this shark. Pic from Tesscar Aluminium Craft.

Aluminium can model plans can be found at www.tesscar-aluminum-craft.com.

Beautiful boots planter. Photo by Cheryl Harvey. Sourced from Dobbies Peculiar planters blog by Ian Daniels.

Planters like these boots don’t come with any instructions, to make them you just have to accept that its time to let your shoes go and enjoy them in a slightly different way.

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One Response to “Upcycling – not just for the amateurs”

  1. Architect Mark Iscaro puts the case for sustainable office furnishings « ESI.info Interior Design Says:

    […] up-cycled furniture could be the spark your office needs. the centrepiece that sparks those interesting conversations […]

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