Putting the “Up” in Upcycling

By Preeti Mehta

Upcycling is all the rage these days. You may not have heard of it yet, but if you’re an artist, quilter, crafter, or maker of any kind, you may be doing it already!

What is Upcycling? 

So, what is upcycling? And how is it different from recycling? According to Wikipedia, upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality and environmental value”. Recycling is the breaking down of reusable material (e.g., glass bottles, aluminum cans), prior to manufacturing something new.

Examples of upcycling are plentiful both in our homes and online – from reclaiming and restyling old furniture to artwork made from found objects to animal sculptures made from flip-flops abandoned on the beach. Upcycling extends the life of an old object much more efficiently than recycling does. Recycling is important, but upcycling is better because it is far more energy efficient.  

Why Does it Matter? 

In the consumer-oriented and throw-away culture of today, most things are not built to last. Everything from cars to clothing is typically discarded after a few years of use. Per 2016 World Bank estimates, waste generated per person per day averages 0.74 kilogram, but ranges widely, from 0.11 to 4.54 kilograms, and most of this is in higher-income countries. We also now know that a lot of plastic we think is being recycled actually ends up in landfills. Wouldn’t it be better if the plastic (and other waste) would be reused or repurposed creatively?

Artists have been upcycling for generations. Many of The Gallery@57’s artists reuse fabric, metal, wood, glass, old jewelry, and other items to create stunning art. As Earth Day 2020 approaches, we all should be thinking about how we can extend the life of things we own.

Upcycling and The Gallery@57

  • In these difficult days of COVID-19, artists Debbie Corleto and Janice Doucette have been creating masks out of colorful pieces of fabric, including scraps left over from other projects, to protect family, friends, essential workers, first responders and medical professionals. 
  • Elizabeth Scorcello creates scarves out of old clothing which would otherwise end up in landfill. 
  • Glenn Kruse uses pieces of old license plates to make new signs and wall hangings.
  • Lisa DeCobert makes keepsake boxes out of cigar boxes decoupaged with old jewelry, keys, and other found objects. 
  • Preeti Mehta, proprietor of Premaasi Textiles, sources scarves and necklaces made from vintage silk saris which would otherwise end up in landfill. This scarf is made from two pieces of vintage silk sari fabric. Scrap left over from making the scarves is used to make the necklaces shown below, so there is no waste. 
Photo by House of Wandering Silk

These are just a few examples of upcycling that can be found at The Gallery@57.

What is your favorite example of upcycling?


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