Today we would like to go in detail about the concept of upcycling, which is related to our blog post entitled ‘Toward a Circular Economy’.
1.- What does ‘upcycling’ mean?
The word upcycle seems to be a blend of up- and recycle. Generally speaking, recycling involves converting or extracting useful materials from waste in order to create a different product or material. Some people divide this process into downcycling and upcycling, in such a way that downcycling involves converting materials and products into new materials of lesser quality than the original ones and upcycling involves converting waste materials into new materials or products of better quality than the original ones.
The first recorded use of the term upcycling was by Reiner Pilz of Pilz GmbH in an article by Thornton Kay of Salvo in 1994:
We talked about the impending EU Demolition Waste Streams directive. “Recycling,” he said, “I call it downcycling. They smash bricks, they smash everything. What we need is upcycling- where old products are given more value, not less.” He despairs of the German situation and recalls the supply of a large quantity of reclaimed woodblock from an English supplier for a contract in Nuremberg while just down the road a load of similar blocks was scrapped. In the road outside his premises, was the result of the Germans’ demolition waste recycling. It was a pinky looking aggregate with pieces of handmade brick, old tiles and discernible parts of useful old items mixed with crushed concrete. Is this the future for Europe?
2.- The relationship between art and upcycling
Although it has long been a means of production in folk art, the tradition of reusing found objects (‘objet trouvé’) in mainstream art came of age sporadically through the 20th century. However, it has never faded away. Just to put an example, the field of experimental music will always astonish us with an unsurmountable array of surprising musical instruments.
Some of the members of one our favorite bands, Einstürzende Neubauten, have been using custom instruments instruments built mostly from scrap and found objects for decades (and this became decisive for Neubauten’s development). Feel free to have a look at these two videos and try to identify the instruments of the rhythm section of the group: Armenia (from Zeichnungen Des Patienten O.T., recorded live in 1986) and Alles (from Silence is Sexy, recorded live in 2011).
With their own home-made musical instruments, the Argentine ensemble Les Luthiers (‘musical instrument maker’ in French) is a formidable example of the power of upcycling (be amazed by the indescribable Loas al cuarto de baño). The Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados de Cateura (Paraguay) is another inspirational case study (we think that this moving video offers a good perspective over it):
3.- The Machinarium Collection as upcycling example
As we explained a couple of years ago, repurposing old watches is nothing new. In fact, Victorians did it themselves. With our Machinarium Collection we try to dignify non-functional vintage and even antique watch movements that could be considered useless by many, by transforming them into fine jewelry pieces. We do think that these small wonders of engineering deserve a second life.
Our world needs more upcycling, don’t you think?