Up-What-Now?: An Intro to Upcycling

If you’re the kind of person that dreads tossing anything out, we’re right there with you.

If this is you, you might be pleased to find that Avocado Leaf Tea is completely Upcycled! Avocado Trees grow about a foot a year, and have to be trimmed biannually to maintain a healthy growth rate and environment in an Avocado Grove. In Groves dedicated to harvesting only the Avocado Fruit, these trimmings are regularly discarded as trash. However, here at Avocado Leaf Tea, our Teas are made solely from (you guessed it!) from the leaves of the Avocado Tree. The leaves we use to make our delicious Teas are discarded in most Groves, and are sent to the landfill where they take up precious space.

It’s more important now than ever to minimize the amount of waste we create. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average American person produces about 5.91 pounds of trash per day, resulting in about 2,150 pounds of trash per year. Assuming the average trash bag is 10-15 pounds, that’s up to 215 bags of trash per American per year. 

There is varied discussion among experts on just how much time our landfills have left. David Biderman, president and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), reported that the amount of waste disposed in landfills dropped more than 7% from 2000 to 2015 thanks to increased recycling and diversion practices, despite the fact that the U.S. population has increased by about 13.6% during that time. Less optimistically however, Bryan Staley, PhD, PE, president and CEO of the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF), estimates that nationally, the U.S. has about 62 years of landfill capacity remaining in its current facilities

Whatever the case, landfill space is a limited resource. So what can we do to conserve this precious landfill space? Well we need to find ways to reduce our waste. Which is sometimes easier said than done. 

 

Enter, Upcycling! 
Upcycling is a great way to reuse materials and reduce our footprint by taking something that’s considered waste and repurposing it. The upcycled item oftentimes becomes more functional or beautiful than what it previously was. 

Recycling and Upcycling are different processes. In the recycling process, items are broken down and reused. Paper is shredded and turned into pulp, plastic is cut down and melted into new shapes, and glass is broken and melted to be recast. This “downcycling” is an essential step in the recycling process. Upcycling, however, is a creative process where waste is viewed as a resource. Materials are used cleverly, without downcycling, and are given a second life. Both recycling and upcycling are important processes, as they reduce landfill waste and reuse materials instead of throwing them away. 

Upcycling is a more environmentally attractive process because it has virtually no eco-footprint. Recycling, although the damage is significantly smaller than raw material manufacturing, still results in air and water pollution.

Despite the attributes of upcycling, it’s still considered a niche subject. You hear about recycling all the time, but upcycling, even though it’s so beneficial, is unfamiliar to most people.

 

The Emergence of Upcycling in Industry
Research into upcycling in industry has focused largely on textiles and fashion, while the upcycling of other product groups, such as food, furniture, and wood products remains mostly unexplored. Upcycling in the manufacturing and creative industries has the potential to help diversify the economy, generate jobs, and inspire more environmentally conscious consumer behavior. 

Although upcycling research is new, there has been a rush of publications on the subject in the last decade, in fields ranging from engineering to management to consumer studies, and as a result, our depth of knowledge is increasing.

According to the article “Challenges and opportunities for scaling up upcycling businesses – The case of textile and wood upcycling businesses in the UK,” upcycling has been shown to have a role in slowing and/or ending material cycles, as well as other advantages such as increasing economic opportunities, entrepreneurship, promoting prosumerism (increased involvement of customers in the production process; i.e. customer feedback and customization), and advocating reuse over recycling. More importantly, several studies suggest that upcycling can help minimize the production of new clothing, in addition to minimizing the environmental consequences of clothing manufacturing and consumption. 

Upcycling in industry improves the quality and lifespan of materials and products, decreases waste, generates jobs, and promotes environmentally friendly consumer behavior.

Many popular clothing brands have started upcycling programs, including Eileen Fisher, Patagonia, H&M, Levi’s, Madewell, Theory, Guess, The North Face, and Asics--just to name a few. Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in their impact on the environment, especially young people. Patagonia’s resale brand Worn Wear “brings in customers who are, on average, ten years younger than the typical Patagonia shopper,” suggesting a new emphasis on sustainability among younger generations. 

Upcycling has also become more popular in the food industry. Brands like Outcast: Upcycled Nutrition and Swisse Wellness use produce that usually ends up in the landfill and turns it into a new, functional product, ready for market. (Click here to check out our FAQ and read more about Avocado Leaf Tea’s Upcycling!).  


Unwanted Items to Gorgeous DIYs
It’s great that upcycling is becoming more important to consumers. But how does upcycling apply to you? 

Upcycle That is a great resource if you’re looking to get into upcycling at home. You can browse projects by what materials you have or what you’d like to make. Check out their website for more info (and inspo) about Upcycling. 

We hope that you’ve found some inspiration for your next upcycling project, and have learned a bit about why it’s so important to make an effort to minimize the waste we create. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the effects of waste, check out these documentaries:


Tomorrow (2018)

Available on  Vimeo, iTunes, or Amazon.


Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (2013)

Available on Vimeo or Amazon.


The True Cost (2015)

Available on Amazon


The Clean Bin Project (2010)

Available on Vimeo or Amazon


Just Eat It!: A Food Waste Story (2014)

Available on iTunes, Hulu, and Amazon Prime


Trashed (2012)

Available on Vimeo

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