Thirteen years ago, I named my first blog: "Eat, Drink & Be Married, the simple life of a minimalist.” A few years ago, I realized it was time to change the name from “minimalist” to "nomads." There are a few reasons as to why I am not an excellent minimalist, but there is one eco-friendly obsession that is really holding me back.
I know some folks are like, "Wayment (wait a minute) - I thought it was Reduce, Reuse, Recycle?" Well, add a U to the three R's. Y'all, I cannot live on these city streets and move from place to place without finding something about to be trashed, that needs to be either re-homed, re-roomed, and then reused creatively. My father’s innate desire to waste NOTHING and my mom’s love of creating has combined to make this combustible upcycling energy. I see five uses in everything that I put my hands on. Throwing things away, wasting, or letting things go without getting EVERY OUNCE of use out of it is not my style. Upcycling was a part of my being even before it had a title, and before, I secretly called myself an Eco Artist. Even when I was a young girl, I could go throughout our basement, our recycling bin, my grandma’s attic, or community spaces’ curbside trash pickups and find my next invention. It didn't matter whether it was a baby squirrel crib (yes, really), an art supply box, a makeup holder, a refurbished bookshelf, a shoe container, or a clothing item, etc.
To upcycle may be a new word, but it’s been used in ancestral communities - specifically communities of color and/or low-income communities - for generations. Heck, that was super dramatic - upcycling was a way of life for everyone before “fast” culture took over. Just 50 years ago, very few folks would see a small rip, wrinkle, or tear and throw away the babydoll with the bathwater. But upcycling is taking (today’s standard of) trash and making it a treasure. We all know the saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” well, people, that’s what it is. Correction: "One human's trash is upcycled to treasure."
It’s taking what’s about to be in a landfill and reusing it creatively. In a low to no-waste lifestyle, upcycling is a way of using the items on a one-way-track to the dumpster or recycling bin. It’s a way to avoid materials being in a landfill, an ocean, or incinerated (which creates greenhouse gas).
Recycle vs. Reuse
At my cousin’s request, I looked into how often recycled items ended up in the landfill a few years ago.
Let’s just say this:
“Of the 8.3 billion metric tons that has been produced, 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste. Of that, only nine percent has been recycled. The vast majority—79 percent—is accumulating in landfills or sloughing off in the natural environment as litter. Meaning: at some point, much of it ends up in the oceans, the final sink.” - National Geographic
Most of this is because many folks don’t (can't) recycle. Still, another huge issue is that what we recycle isn't being recycled.
“A Guardian investigation reveals that cities around the country are no longer recycling many types of plastic dropped into recycling bins. Instead, they are being landfilled, burned, or stockpiled. From Los Angeles to Florida to the Arizona desert, officials say, vast quantities of plastic are now no better than garbage."
There are so many reasons why:
Mistakes that happen during the sorting of plastics (black plastic ends up in the landfill )
Folks overfilling recycling centers/cans/dumpsters with non-recyclable items
International relationships and policies.
And so many more
So, yes, still recycle responsibly, but see recycling as a last resort. Our mission should be reduction and reuse. This is true in fashion as well, read our story on SLOW fashion to learn about sustainable clothing options.
Examples of Upcycling
Y'all, if you google "upcycling," there are so many AMAZING ideas, and let's not even start on Pinterest. So I'm going to keep this section short, but still want to give fun ideas:
Oldie but goodie: jeans upcycled to shorts, skirt
Shorts, a skirt, and shirts upcycled to a cloth bag
Yogurt container and/or egg carton upcycled to a funky plant holder
Plastic ice cream container upcycled to an artsy water paint container
In Waldorf education, glass Mason jars or pickle jars are upcycled to lanterns for festivals.
The options are endless.
Here's to being an eco-artist and creating treasure from trash.