Friday 29 October 2010

Upcycling – rediscovering the value in waste

The word waste implies that something is useless.

The concept of waste is a relatively recent one.

Nothing in nature is useless.

Our modern society piles unimaginable quantities of ‘waste’ into huge landfill sites every year, but before the twentieth century waste was always seen as an opportunity. One person’s waste was another person’s really cheap resource. Finding a use for waste or ‘closing the cycle’ was a common part of life. Similarly in nature one processes waste products are valuable for another process that has evolved to compliment it, why do you think we breathe oxygen? Only because plants breathed carbon dioxide first and turned it into toxic oxygen, so suddenly breathing oxygen became an advantage.

So my post today is about rediscovering the value in ‘waste’ or upcycling. As an enthusiastic crafter this has always been somewhat second nature, being brought up making papier mache bowls out of newspapers and hamster mazes out of toilet rolls. However, as my environmental conscience has grown it has become a conscious effort, and challenge even, to use as much of my ‘waste’ as I can. This does have the unfortunate side effect of many stockpiles around our house of random types of packaging, waiting to be given a new lease of life. However, the satisfaction of reuse and the exciting creations more than compensate.

One of my reuses that has featured on the blog before is rag rugs. I have had great fun making rugs and bags by weaving old sheets and clothes. However, I do find it challenging to find clothes that are worn enough to fit this purpose and it feels very wrong to cut up still useable clothes. So these projects are currently on hold pending discovery of more rags. The same is true of felting, where my love of woolly jumpers prevents me from turning them into felt!

Using food waste is particularly exciting, ranging from compost heap jelly to inventive soups and my housemates delicious made up biscuits last night. And then of course there are all the jars which I have to refill with homemade jams and chutneys and all the bottles that have to be filled with wine and fruit vinegars. We also have the most ridiculous collection of plastic bags, paper bags and plastic tubs, far more than we will ever practically reuse, but we just cannot bring ourselves to throw them away!

Permaculture is very keen on reuse and I still particularly like Mike Feingold’s example which I discussed in September, One simple cauliflower stalk can be fed to a goat, goat poo is eaten by your worms which your chickens can then eat and their poo makes a good tree fertiliser, so then you get very virtuous apples!

My current reuse focus is on bicycle parts due to my summer cycling adventures. So there are bicycle chain keyrings and bicycle inner tube bracelets and earrings. While we were on tour Ruth made some amazing woven inner tube purses, but they took lots of sewing together so I haven’t managed to make my own yet! However, tetrapak wallets are quick and easy and I have started a bit of a production line of them.

Elena bought me an exciting library book called Eco crafts that she thought I would enjoy. There are lots of exciting ideas in there, such as ironing several layers of plastic bags together to make a tough waterproof material. I think I will be putting all my excess plastic bags to good use soon! I also like the idea of using old CD cases as photo frames and of blending soaked paper to make a clay like material, for making bowls and other constructions.

There are of course hundreds of other ways you can reuse things and Christmas presents and decorations are a particularly good opportunity – last year we made a Christmas tree entirely out of newspaper!

So I will leave you with this challenge: find an alternative use for one item that you currently put in landfill. I look forward to hearing about the resulting creations!

Photos: a rag bag made following a reskilling rag rug session, a selection of my wine and jams, an inner tube bracelet, a tetrapak wallet and the newspaper christmas tree.

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