Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Most of us have the three R's of sustainability memorized: reduce, reuse and....upcycle? Now I know what you're probably thinking and let me just say no my fingers did not suffer a minor seizure and miss the letters "re";  a new word has entered into the fray and challenged recycling for its spot: upcycling.

Upcycling is a term for using items that have expired in their intended use by giving them a completely new purpose. It is not exactly reusing, because the item is not getting reused as it was used before, but rather it is getting used as something completely new. Recycling, also known as downcycling, is the process of converting an item into lesser quality by consuming energy. Upcycling (named in contrast to the term downcycling) adds value to an item by not decreasing its quality and not consuming energy, making it the greener contender among the two. Upcycling 1, Recyling 0. 

So how exactly do you upcycle? Well lets follow Sherri Brooks Vinton's example of upcycled canning jars. Ms. Vinton used regular canning jars, which pasta sauce or pickles are usually stored in, to create resuable straw cups. Had she decided to recycle the jars, energy and money would have gone into melting the glass and reforming it. She instead decided to convert them into adult "jar-chic sippy cups." I've heard that they are the buzz around all the hipster joints in town. But regardless, the cups themselves provide a valuable trendy kind of water bottle whose worth is much more than melted reformed glass. Upcycling: 2, Recycling: 0.

According to leading designer Danny Seo, if you have sharp scissors, a glue gun, an x-acto knife, drills, a staple gun, double stick tape, and a sewing kit then you are good to go to make one hundred upcycling projects at home. It seems like a long list, but if you think for just a minute, many of us have these items as a part of our household tool kits, and if you don't, this is a good time to go and restock. Recycling, on the other hand, requires a whole other facility with large machines (which have to be separately operated) that crush, melt, and crunch perfectly usable items and make them into "resuable human waste." I think, as environmentalists, we all have the mantra of "no waste" ringing through our ears right now. Upcycling: 3, Recycling: 0. 

Well, I believe we have a winner! Winning three to zero, upcycling takes the lead as the greener option. Upcycling is the cleaner and greener way to go, and the best part is, its not very difficult to do! So go out there and impress your friends with your new found lingo, all the while saving our planet. 

Happy Upcycling,

Dr. Green 

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