Recycled materials have long been a staple of the crafter’s closet, but the upcycling trend is hitting Etsy hard in 2011. Upcycling, recycling, repurposing, reclaiming – it’s enough to make your head spin. What does it all mean? Why did recycling have to get so complicated all of a sudden? Read on to learn what makes upcycling unique and see some truly imaginative creations.
Upcycling was coined in the 90s but sprung into the mainstream in 2002 with Michael Braungart’s book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. Upcycling differs from recycling in that the end product has more value than the original material, whereas recycling generally breaks things down to be re-used in a lesser-grade material. Braungart points out in his book that “waste” is a relatively new concept ushered in by the industrial revolution; he proposes a world in which our waste is intended to be reused, such as bottles that can be casually littered since they bio-degrade into food for plant seeds embedded in their base.
Changing the manufacturing world is a noble goal, but in the meantime many crafters are looking twice at waste before tossing it in the trash. Many items headed for the curb can be given a new lease on life with a little cutting, sanding, polishing and sewing. From maps, furniture and silverware to coffee bags, Capri-Sun containers and Scrabble tiles – one man’s trash is becoming an Etsyian’s treasure. Old clothes are especially useful, whether they’re recombined into unusual new garments or fashioned into new toys for our furry friends.
If you’re already living so green and eco-friendly that your trash bin is a thing of the past – or if your waste just doesn’t inspire you – Freecycle is a staple for many upcyclers. Freecycle’s goal is to divert as many goods as possible from landfills by organizing local groups for exchanging used or unwanted items. Craigslist also has a free section that may tickle your fancy for finding upcycle-worthy treasures before they hit the dump.
Whether you’re a crafter or a shopper, upcycled crafts can be a lot of fun. The challenge of re-use can often yield some creative surprises. The Etsy items shown in this article are a great example – many of them are hardly recognizable as the original item. Even those that are familiar make you stop and wonder “How’d they do that?” Next time you’re about to toss something in the trash, take a moment to imagine what it could become.