Up-cycling and free-cycling can bring out your creative side and bring down carbon footprint

It may seem as if Bangalore’s waste disposal crisis has been resolved. However, the landfill in Mandur is still very much a reality, teeming with tonnes of unsegregated waste. If these recent events have taught us anything, it is that waste management cannot be taken lightly. It has forced us to look closely at the things we buy, the items we use and the ways in which we dispose of these products. While waste segregation at the source remains one of the top lessons learnt, waste disposal in more unique and innovative ways has become the need of the hour. Are we throwing away things that someone else could use? Can we refashion these items and enjoy them in a new avatar? These are questions worth asking, and luckily several of Bangalore’s eco-citizens have come up with answers.

Up-cycling and free-cycling

Neo-recycling concepts that are fast catching on, up-cycling and free-cycling are creative ways of waste disposal. Both endeavour to be of environmental value by keeping disused, but reusable, items out of a landfill. While up-cycling is the process of converting old or waste items into new and better products with a different utility, free-cycling is all about passing on an article that may not be of use to the original owner to someone else who may need it, for free.

“Up-cycling is essentially a form of repurposing where an object may have outlived its original purpose, so instead of throwing it away, you try to find another use for it by making minimal or no adjustment/change to its shape and form with little or no material additions,” says Monami Bhattacharya of Project Emm, an up-cycling initiative started by her. “Making a low-seater out of a car tyre, a letterbox out of an eight-year-old toaster, or a phone table out of a flush tank and a mirror out of a toilet seat, are all examples of up-cycling,” she says.

The sceptics only have to look up Project Emm (https://www.facebook.com/ProjectEmm) to believe it is all true. “When I was growing up, I saw my mum reduce waste. While the organic would go straight into the soil, inorganic things such as old saris and T-shirts would find a new purpose in the form of quilts, mattresses, pillow covers and soft toys. My sister and I caught on and used to make posters out of comic strips printed in newspapers. Today, this is a very popular form of decoupage and has a niche demand – old movie or music cassette covers and comic strips in serving trays or as pen holders,” adds Monami.

For the ladies at Silver Nut Tree inspiration came by way of their children who were being introduced to the concepts of ecology at school. “The very hard questions posed by our children led us to some very serious thinking and revamping the common perception of recycling,” says Angeline Robinson, who co-founded Silver Nut Tree with Rituparna Das.

“Recycling need not be drab and boring. For us it started with a humble PET plastic bottle that showed the promise of becoming a treasure that no one would throw away. We then went on to find ways to up-cycle rubber tubes, bottle caps, washers, nuts, CDs and glass bottles,” adds Rituparna.

At Silver Nut Tree (www.facebook.com/SilverNutTree) perceivable pieces of junk are fashioned into beautiful pieces of jewellery or home décor. Glass bottles, CDs and bottle caps have ended up as avant-garde pieces of fashion. “Unlike recycling that requires specific technology and scientific process that are not cheap, up-cycling is primarily rooted in creativity and imagination, giving the up-cycler freedom of thought and expression. It involves reusing, repurposing and uplifting both trash and regular items around the home into something of higher value. The process is often laborious, but very basic and need not be expensive at all,” says Angeline.

The Free-cycling Network can be credited with popularising the concept of “gifting” groups after its formation in 2003. Registered as a non-profit organisation in Arizona, USA, and separately as a charity in the UK. The Free-cycling Network grew to become a 7,542,121 member strong group across the globe. Its Bangalore chapter functions on a yahoo group where at least one post goes up every day, offering free-cyclers items as varied as guitars, paintings, babies’ clothing and modems. “Most of the items on offer are usually books, chargers, modems, children’s toys etc. Sometimes, it is a case of more people asking than receiving. I feel item condition is usually decent, but people are sometimes sceptical about picking up clothes and electronics,” says Smriti Krishna, a member of the group’s Facebook arm.

“I’m all for free-cycling. But sometimes there is this tug over giving the item to people who can afford it or donating it to charity,” she says.

It is certainly difficult to find things for free, even more so with giving up things for free. While the guardians of free-cycling continue to place their faith in the system, the process has taken on different forms with groups such as Second to None and Garage Sale thriving with activity on Facebook.

The seller here usually uploads a picture of an item he or she wishes to sell, much below its original price, giving a description of the item and specifying the pickup location. This has been of much success and surely keeps unwanted items out of a landfill as well.

What can I upcycle?

Ceramic chipped cups, bowls, plates, toilet fittings, car tyres, PET and wine bottles, CD/DVD, bulbs and CFLs, newspaper, plastic containers, tins and cans, old disused furniture etc can be upcycled easily.

Where can I freecycle?