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Posts: 262
Location: Coast Range, Oregon--the New Magic Land
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this is the old redneck skill of raiding the junquepile My hubby scored a nice FREE pile of i-beam, angle iron and reciever hitch tube steel at the dump (about $400 worth of steel). He's going to make a motorcycle hitch carrier, and a disc with it all. He's freakin awesome
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
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Nice!

I'd like to popularize the idea of up-cycling ceramics into tools.

Specifically, little bits of crushed spark-plug insulator, epoxied onto a steel or hardwood handle, would make a very sharp and durable paper/plastic cutter. A very small blade would make for a very safe tool, to open letters and do scrapbooking, remove shrinkwrap, open hoes in plastic mulch, etc. A slightly longer blade (maybe two whole millimeters long) would be enough to open those horrible blister packs, and cut up thicker plastic like milk jugs and soda bottles.

I own one of these, and really enjoy using it, but I think their decision to use transformation-toughened ceramics is kind of overkill for such a small blade.
 
                                    
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If I'm off on local trash collection day, which I'm usually not, I love to cruise the neighborhood and see what kinds of treasures I can find.  It's simply amazing what people throw out, much of it brand new in the box or barely used, and most of it needing repairs ranging from minor to major, but all still has value.  I've gotten some of the best "stuff" over the past few years doing this.

And, it all started by my cruising around looking for bagged leaves for the garden to use as mulch.  Then I noticed all of the other goodies and was hooked.
 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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I lived in a community a couple of years ago where I set up some shelves in the laundry room labeled "free stuff!"  Folks could add to it or take what they wanted.  I thought it worked really well.  Others thought it was too junky looking and needed to be retired.

 
Brenda Groth
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Location: North Central Michigan
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there are books, magazines and websites that are dedicated to repurposing "junk". I find some of it is useful and some of it is even beneficial and beautiful..and then there is some that is just ..well..junky.

i think it is all a matter of taste and ingenuity.

I have repurposed many things in both of our homes over many years..including repurposing old cabinetry, lumber, shutters, sliding glass doors and windows, etc..to some very sustantial savings and quite helpful storage use. I do have an interior design back ground so it is pretty obvious to me some items that can be reused..i also have seen people repupose a lot of less obvious things into some beautiful and useful items.

i have also seen some people completely clutter their property with totally ugly and uselss junk simply cause that was their choice..

in this throw away generation that we are in at this time. we do have a lot of items that obviuosly should be reused..like the glass that i repurposed..and i am thrilled to see peopole keep usable items out of the landfill whenever possible.
 
Jennifer Richardson
Posts: 166
Location: Columbus, Texas, USA (Colorado County). Zone 8b, verging on Zone 9. Humid subtropical, drought prone
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I love the idea of upcycling, but in practice I see some pitfalls.

Probably the main one is when people go buy a bunch of extra craft-type supplies in order to repurpose something, thus creating even more waste than if they had just thrown the original thing away. For instance buying several cans of paint to make a cute rainbow colored herb planter out of pallets, stuff like that. It is cute but I wouldn't call it eco-friendly.

The other problem I see is that the upcycled stuff is often not something a person really needs or even really wants, it just becomes clutter after a while, especially if they upcycle stuff regularly. Or worse, give it as gifts that then end up being someone else's clutter or donated to the junk shop or landfilled. Honestly this is a problem with a lot of crafters (I am one, not trying to hate!) because we make more than we can use in our own homes. I saw a thing on YouTube the other day for a "personal recycling machine" for waste plastic and it could make children's toy spinning tops and ugly plastic lamp shades. How many lamp shades and toy tops can a person possibly use?

Third, a lot of times the stuff is pretty tacky and its origins are pretty obvious, so the appeal of much of it is kind of limited to those who have embraced the eclectic hippie junkyard aesthetic. Nothing wrong with that, but I would like to make it more of a thing with your image-conscious suburban type who generate much of the waste and consumption.

Not trying to be negative, I think there's a lot of potential here, just have some doubts about the way upcycling is trending.
 
Abbey Battle
Posts: 85
Location: Wealden AONB
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I think the point of upcycling is to only make what you need and use what you have.
At the same time, you can become a bit of a hoarder - well, that might be handy in the future, don't know what I'd use it for now.

Jennifer Richardson - you are right, upcycling needs to be done with thought. It can't just be a random act.

I think I am quite happy with the 'hippie junkyard aesthetic' (until I improve my manual skills that is, only so many courses you can do or afford).

The whole problem is consumerism. 'we' that is, the collective we, have been trained to think that buy buy buy is the way ahead for ourselves and the only way to progress. We all fall into that trap. Magazines that tell you how to make stuff on the cheap. Stuff that you never make, so you've just bought a magazine. Really hard mindset to break out of.

 
Dan Boone
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As a matter of philosophy, what exactly does "upcycling" mean that isn't connoted by "re-using" or "recycling"?  What does the "up" mean in this context?

When I was a little kid my mom put a poster on the wall of the outhouse: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."  She didn't call it "recycling" when she tore apart my sister's worn-out-parka to make snowpants for me; she just called it living.  And when she glued buttons and a battery clockwork she found somewhere to an old frying pan to make a kitchen clock, she didn't call it upcycling, though she might have called it crafting.

When I hear "upcycling", I think that a thing has been not only reused or recycled, but also beautified -- turned from garbage or surplus into art, or at least into utility that's more attractive than the item was when found.  When I stack three truck tires and plant potatoes, I'm reusing them but I'm not (if I have this right) upcycling.  Whereas if my hipster neighbor paints those three tires to look like a cartoon character and plants flowers in them, that's upcycling.  Right?

Likewise if I burn some broken pallets for firewood, I've reused them but I haven't upcycled them.  Whereas if I cut them into intricate little pieces of hardwood and assemble mosaic coffee tables, I've upcycled them, right?

In fine, if upcycle means anything than "recycle" or "reuse" does not mean, it's a notion of elevation of the item.  But elevation along what metaphorical axis?  In my paragraph above, I'd say it's an axis of beauty; if you turn one workaday object into another ("I'm going to use this plastic garbage can to grow water chestnuts in") there's no "up" and thus no "upcycling". 

I propose this theory but I'm not sure it's correct.  And part of the reason is that mostly when I hear the word "upcycling" I hear it from "rich people" -- which is not to say, actually wealthy people, but people from that somewhat elevated social class who are mostly urban, well-educated, and concerned for intellectual reasons about thing like product cycles and waste streams.  People for whom "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" is a novel idea that was never part of their childhood.  This gives rise to an alternative, possibly-cynical, theory, that whether or not a particular activity is "upcycling" depends more on who is doing the upcycling than on the use or final form of the item.  Under this theory, it's upcycling when [pick your term of sardonic abuse: yuppies/hippies/hipsters/greenies/richies/Portlanders/suburbanites] do it, but if me in my overalls does it, it's the same old reuse/recycle/"make do" that it always was. 

I don't think that's quite right either, though I do sometimes see the word used that way. 

Third theory: "upcycling" doesn't actually mean anything different; it's just a marketing term to make boring old reuse/recycling more attractive and easier to "sell" to a skeptical public.

What do you think?   Do you ever use the word "upcycle" where the words "reuse" or "recycle" would not serve?  And if you do, what are the special connotations that make the word necessary or useful?

My concrete example today is this pair of accordion file pockets:



I picked them up at a garage sale from a "free" box, and I plan to use them to help organize my seeds.  They are made out of a terrible vinyl and I think they are ugly and I would never buy them at their $21.00 Walmart list price, but they are highly functional.  I don't plan to decorate them in any way.  Is this "upcycling"?  To me, no; it's just plain old scrounging. 


 
Don Wilson
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Dan,

I think you laid it out pretty well.

In my opinion your first theory is the most common. Usually when I hear the term, it seems to be a way to turn regular junk into something not just useful, but valuable. That is, something that people would actually buy.

By the way, I see that you are in central OK. Approximately where are you? I live near Agra.

Don
 
Alex Trapp
Posts: 15
Location: Líbano, Tolima, Colombia - 1840msnm
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Recycling is breaking down to lower commodities.  An aluminum can will be recycled into aluminum, which can be an input again, but is inherently less processed than when it was a can.

Up cycling is turning something into a higher order good.  More processed.  More useful.  An aluminum can becomes.....A hat?  A pizza cutter?  A ring-mail vest? 

Your vinyl orgainizers are not recycled or upcycled, since you don't plan on changing anything, you are just reusing them, perhaps repurposing them since you are using them for something else.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Posts: 3981
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Speaking of upcycling cans, I saw some pull tab upcycling in an art gallery last month that I thought were fantastic. 

Something like this.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
pollinator
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Location: Meppel (Drenthe, the Netherlands)
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My opinion too: 'upcycling' is making something that's considered 'waste' or 'junk' into something beautiful, or useful. Maybe 'repurposing' comes close.
Recycling is re-using the material or the parts of the 'junk'.
 
Dan Boone
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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Hey, Don, welcome to Permies.  I'm in Seminole County, which is about as specific as I like to get on the open internet.

Don Wilson wrote:
By the way, I see that you are in central OK. Approximately where are you? I live near Agra.
 
Joel Bercardin
Posts: 251
Location: Western Canadian mtn valley, zone 6b, 750mm (30") precip
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Brenda Groth wrote:there are books, magazines and websites that are dedicated to repurposing "junk". I find some of it is useful and some of it is even beneficial and beautiful..and then there is some that is just ..well..junky.

I've combed the web for ingenious re-uses of machinery and/or components (motors, frames, gear boxes, wheels/casters, steel or aluminum tubing, etc, etc).  I've posted (on various forums) some pics of useful devices and machines people have devised, and some of my own upcycle of materials & components.  So if you know of "books, magazines, and websites that are dedicated" to this sort of thing I'd like to know about them.  Names? URLs?

I've seen a lot of fun stuff of a decorative sort that people have made, but it's not my real personal interest.

Brenda Groth wrote:I have repurposed many things in both of our homes over many years..including repurposing old cabinetry, lumber, shutters, sliding glass doors and windows, etc..to some very sustantial savings and quite helpful storage use. I do have an interior design back ground so it is pretty obvious to me some items that can be reused..i also have seen people repupose a lot of less obvious things into some beautiful and useful items.

Yes, we've done that here - windows, doors, larger containers (barrels, etc)... old kitchen cabinets into workshop storage, etc.  I'm not the artistic one though... my partner is (she's a professional sculptor, and has the esthetic eye).

I'll just mention that Dale Hodgins started a great thread here at Permies, and people have shown some of their stuff and posted some pics to it:
https://permies.com/t/12412/projects
 
Liz Hoxie
Posts: 223
Location: Ellisforde, WA
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Usually, I find those DIY upcycled home decor sites useless, but have gotten ideas from them that I could use. For instance, this year I'm making plant tags from aluminum cans. I'll use a stylus to write the pertinent info on the tag, add paint in the depressions, seal them, and have cheap plant tags. These were meant for flower pot decorations, but I'm modifying them. They're good for ideas for storage and organization. I like useful items that look good.
 
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