The principle of upcycling, making something new from waste materials, is nothing new. Its frequent reference within popular media and its recent inclusion in the Urban Dictionary, however, suggests that upcycling is apparently now a “thing.” Everyone, from so-hip-it -hurts millennials to savvy housewives, seems to be getting in on this quasi counter-culture revolution.
Refer to a certain search engine and a multitude of “how to” sites and inspiration-laden blogs pop up, all espousing the many virtues of upcycling. Having recently moved house myself and keen on remaining within the perimeters of a dutifully curated budget, the notion of upcycling has suddenly garnered a revised appeal.
The author and sustainability entrepreneur, Gunter Pauli, first published a book entitled Upsizing: The Road to Zero Emissions on the subject in 1998. U.S. thought leader William McDonough and renowned environmentalist Michael Braungart, added to the debate with their 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.
Of course the idea of taking something old and repurposing it for renewed appeal has always been a staple of the art scene. Artists such as Marcel Duchamp (1887 - 1968) and the Dadaists rose to prominence via their utilization of the normative and the surreal reframing of the latter in an attempt to make us question the very notion of their original artistic context.
The American artist, Robert Rauschenberg (1925 - 2008) featured various “found objects” in his creative endeavors, collecting pieces of rubbish whilst traveling, for use in his work. Many cite him as a key figure in the inception of the phenomenon that was to become Pop Art.
The practice of upcycling can also be observed in music. A notable genre in relation to this is hip-hop, which is largely based on the mixing of old songs with innovative beats and lyrics to create a completely new sound. Similarly, in cinema and even photography, film and image can be enhanced and/or remade creating a wholly different effect for a new generation of listeners.
A rise in socio-cultural awareness, with many people feeling the ever increasing divide of classes, has made upcycling a very fruitful and environmentally conscious alternative, to mass consumer production. So much so, that I myself have decided to extend my worthy intentions, beyond the proverbial keyboard, to tend to a rather tired (but fully functional!) chest of drawers!