If you are hip to the whole recycling movement, you already know about upcycling, the über design-savvy practice of converting whatever into something better. Virtually anything can be repurposed into something else, but upcycling implies a design-element with astounding practicality and extraordinary style.
The practice, of course, is nothing new. The indigenous people of the world have been effectively multi-purposing every scrap and bone for tens of thousands of years.
With the surge in global manufacturing over the last 50 years, however, today's consumers have grown accustomed to satisfying every conceivable (and inconceivable) need with a fresh-from-the-factory, plastic-wrapped piece of merchandise, painstakingly processed, shipped and sold at full retail prices in a big-box discount store.
I believe effective, community-supported upcycling efforts may be the future to locally sustainable economies.
I believe there are already enough goods and materials out there that we can probably slow down production for a little while. With so much of our household and industrial junk ending up in landfills and ocean-floating waste dumps, it's naive to believe we actually need more stuff to be made from scratch at the factory level.
Upcycling on a large scale, however, is gaining momentum.
Companies like Patagonia have helped lead the global effort to re-use plastic bottles in polyester fabrics. Ford Motor Co. and GM are both upcycling giants, recycling scrap metal and discarded plastics to be used on the assembly line. Ingram Micro, the world's largest technology distributor with operations on six continents, along with UPS and Ebay, are launching some of the largest e-recycling efforts in history. Shouldn't these practices become required for industrial production of all goods and materials?
Upcycling on a grassroots level is just as important and arguably more interesting. As consumers increasingly look for cost-cutting designer alternatives, nothing beats local artisans for creative craftsmanship and originality. Anyone can piece a few bits and pieces together, but it takes the truly unique to transform the mundane into the elegantly divine.
We are seeing this across the country. People are carving out financially viable niches in commerce, using the second-hand resources available to them locally.
This may be the dawn of the rebirth of the re-purposefully re-creative. Upcycling promotes local consumerism, barter-based economies and self-reliance. At a time when every exit off the interstate looks identical to the one before it, with the same big-box discount stores and the same plastic-wrapped merchandise packed in enough packaging to circle the globe and back, why not promote a little creative use of the stuff already in hand? Why not insist on it?
With times as tight as they are, with so much hanging in the balance, with so many struggling to maintain basic existence, why not tilt the odds in favor of sustainability, humility and re-purposefulness?
We have proven our capacity to do so much with the finite resources available to us on this planet. As we continue to witness the impacts of our hubris on the climate and failing economies across the globe, perhaps now is the time to reconsider our relationship to the stuff in our lives.
Perhaps now is the time to reconsider what we require, and what else may satisfy the need. Perhaps now is the time to make more effort to ensure the items we discard have the opportunity to serve another purpose. Perhaps now is the time to recommit to taking some personal responsibility for what we purchase, where those things come from, how they were manufactured, and if our intentionally re-creative touch helps to make our stuff infinitely more meaningful.
- "Life. Simplified." appears on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. Evan Zislis is founder and principal consultant of www.MyIntentionalSolutions.com, delivering hands-on organizational solutions for households, businesses, non-profits, students and life transitions. For more information about simplifying your stuff and organizing your life, call 366-2532 or email evan@MyIntentionalSolutions.com.