Dealing with Waste: Upcycling

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These adorable little shoes are actually made from plastic shopping bags!

Garbage and waste have become major problems in today’s society. Everything we put into the trash ends up in a landfill or in an incinerator, leaching toxins into the air, water, and land. The EPA reports that Americans generated about 250 million tons of trash in the year 2010. MILLIONS OF TONS OF TRASH IN ONE YEAR IN ONE COUNTRY. Let that sink in for a moment. Now think of how much trash we, as a human population, have generated over the past century. Ugly picture, isn’t it? The brighter side is that about 34% of the 250 million tons in 2010 was recycled and composted. That’s progress. But I think we can do better.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. You’ve heard that mantra before, but it really is the perfect summary of what we, as concerned citizens of this lovely planet Earth, can do. First, reduce. I understand that it’s hard for some people, but we can all take measures to go without what we really don’t need. Next, reuse. This is the one I want to focus on in this post today, what upcycling really means. Finally, recycle. While it’s not completely efficient, recycling appropriate materials is definitely important. Don’t just recycle those paper bags, though. Make sure to buy products that use post-consumer recycled material. Otherwise, you’re really not doing much good.

Like I said, today I want to focus on reusing, particularly upcycling. Now, what is upcycling? According to Wikipedia, it’s “the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.” Almost anything can be upcycled, especially those things you can’t recycle or compost. Efficient upcycling results in unique and useful accessories, decorations, or even furniture, reducing the amount of products you need to purchase.

So get creative! Use the resources available to you to upcycle whatever you might be tempted to throw away. Pinterest is an especially great resource for this. Just browsing through the site exposes you to some incredible uses of ordinary materials. Baskets made out of magazines, yarn made out of old t-shirts, notebooks made from junk mail. The possibilities really are endless. When you’re done, you can be proud of your creation because of the work that went into it, the artistry it shows, and its eco-friendliness.

My school is putting on a recycling fair of sorts, where students can enter their upcycled creations, be it clothing or artwork. I’m really excited to see what everyone comes up with. Upcycling is a pretty new area of interest, but it’s so innovative. I hope it gains more momentum and becomes a real movement.

by Himabindu Vinnakota

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