Is Upcycling Enough?

One of the most interesting things they said during the “Waste=Food” movie was how materials should be compostable and we shouldn’t downcycle. Downcycle meaning recycling the products to something lower then what they originally were. This process, you take materials and make them into a product of lesser quality and reducing the function. A quote from William McDonough from both the movie and the book Cradle to Cradle, “When plastics other than those found in soda and water bottles are recycled, they are mixed with different plastics to produce a hybrid of lower quality, which is then molded into something amorphous and cheap, such as a park bench or a speed bump”. I agree with him on this idea. While this idea seems good because you are preventing the materials from going to a landfill, there still is the issue of creating more. A more successful solution would be to create something that is biodegradable, or that serves a higher purpose.

A current trend right now in so many different areas is the idea of up-cycling and re-purposing. We see it everywhere, in botiques and on the internet. It is a high priced trend. This is not the solution either. This is just like putting a band-aid on the problem and forgetting about it. This is not going to help in the long run, because in reality, these products are now going to be even harder to recycle. For example, on the website, simply typing into the search “upcycled” provides you with anything you could ever want to buy that has been upcycled.

Etsy search of “upcycled”

I found this chair, which honestly, I would buy. It’s a nice color, I like the fabric and it looks like it was fixed up well.

But, that isn’t what is important. Looking past the bright and beautiful colors, in terms of eco-friendly, does this solve the problem. No, it doesn’t. In fact, I would argue that it makes it a little worse. Now, this original Queen Anne chair, which most likely was made of good solid “antique” wood, probably cherry, is covered in toxic paint. What I see from this now, is that the chair was saved from recycling or the landfill once, but now it’s covered in paint which is even worse and will make it even harder to recycle and will add elements to the landfill that shouldn’t be there.

This idea appears to be nothing more then just trendy to me. Yes, I admit, it is aesthetically pleasing and I even said earlier I would purchase it on impulse, but in reality and in terms of whats best for the environment, this idea really isn’t helping anything. I think that the intentions of up-cycling were good. They wanted to prevent things from heading to the landfill, and provide something unique for people to purchase and own. While this idea does prevent items from heading immediately to the landfill, it a few years when the product is worn down and no longer wanted, it will just be put out into the trash. This idea just helped delay the process of going to the landfill.

I’m not sure what the right thing to do here to reduce the waste besides from creating a waste to energy incinerator, which is not very realistic for a short term solution. Another idea would be to start creating materials and products that are biodegradable and complete the cycle of coming from the Earth, being used as a product, and returning again to the earth.

William, McDonough; Michael Braungart (2002). North Point Press. ed. . North Point Pr.Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. pp. 56–57.


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