Why recycle when you can upcycle?

Ever wondered what you can do with junk? You could simply throw it away, sell it and make a few extra bucks, you could give it away to someone who could use it or you could turn it into something better, in other words upcycle it.

As the name suggests, upcycling means converting waste material or used products into products of higher quality and utility. Have an old stack of newspapers? Make jewellery. Your old dupatta feels out of date? Make a shrug. Don’t use your old CDs anymore? Pair it up with LED lights and you have a lamp.

Two birds, one stone

The concept of upcycling may have been around since the time waste existed but it is only recently that it is making a unique statement. It has now become a space where the consumer-driven world of fashion and lifestyle meets sustainability and conservation, albeit in a small way.

The Uniform Project (UP), a New York-based organization is all about upcycled fashion. It began when Sheena Matheiken left a job in advertising and decided to do something to raise funds to send less fortunate children to schools back home in India. Rather than followthe routine model of giving charity, she decided to challenge the act of waking up in the morning and getting dressed, with a ‘1 dress, 365 days’ motto. The real challenge was to reinvent the dress daily to make it look unique - she managed this by pairing it with things, clothing or accessories she already owned, borrowed from friends or were donated to her by her followers . The UP was essentially a style challenge but one that spoke against over-consumerism, especially in the world of fashion. At the end of the year the project also succeeded in raising funds for a cause. Two causes; one Little Black Dress.

For many, altruism may not be a good enough motive to convert your trash to products but it sure is turning into an interesting way to express your personal style.

Designers across the world are trying their hand at making upcycled products and accessories. Designer Devi Chanda from Chennai makes exquisite jewellery from news paper and cardboard. An exhibition held as Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad earlier this year featured upcycled art and utility items by German artists. Sometimes, upcycling is more about survival and pragmatism. Litre of light, an organization in the Philippines fills up old water bottles with a mixture of water and bleach to light up homes of slum dwellers. ‘Upcycle Living’, on the other hand, is an American firm that takes old shipping containers and transforms them into affordable, durable housing.

Do it yourself

In India, jewellery and home accessories made of waste paper, old magazines and unused bottles can be found in many boutiques across the country but the best part of upcycling is that you can do it at home! You don’t need to be a professional designer to transform an old wine bottle into a lampshade or mould a box out of news-paper mache. Google 'Upcycled products' or 'Do-it-yourself (DIY)' and you will be surprised at the ideas the internet throws up. Log onto Pinterest; an array of DIY boards show you how to turn an old saucepan into a clock or old circuit boards into photo frames. Other websites like Hipcycle and Upcycle Magazine offers tutorials and also sell products. Perhaps, a visit to any of these will make you think twice before getting rid of your trash.

Favourite Upcyclables

News paper/magazines: Baskets, jewellery.

Old bottles/cans: Lampshades, wind chimes, vase

CDs: Wall hanging, clock, LED lamp

Credit, debit and gift cards: Jewellery, guitar picks