A global trend is seeking to discourage the throwaway culture. Stephanie Fsadni learns how rubbish can be turned into functional and valuable objects through upcycling.

As the world scrambles to find ways and means to safeguard the environment, it’s a good idea to look into how our grandparents tried to save some money in the olden days: they repurposed almost everything.

Pallets can be turned into furniture and home decor.Pallets can be turned into furniture and home decor.

This is the idea behind ‘upcycling’, which is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality or environmental value.

The term was coined in 1998 but the concept only gained popularity in recent years. Upcycling, sometimes called ‘creative reuse’, is now considered an important part of the 4Rs of waste management: reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery. It is the opposite of downcycling, through which products of inferior quality are created from the waste material available.

“Upcycling is not a new concept. It was always there, especially alive in families with very little economic or material resources,” says Marta Kurzynska of the online/pop-up shop STH from NTH. “I think it became more popular in the past few years, but it also depends on the country. Comparing Malta to Germany, we are a few years behind when it comes to the popularity of upcycling. It is still considered as something not fancy and many people still associate it with poverty.”

Comparing Malta to Germany, we are a few years behind when it comes to the popularity of upcycling

The aim of STH from NTH (which is short for ‘something from nothing’) is to reduce reliance on the throw-away culture by showing that ‘rubbish’ and old items can be turned into functional and valuable objects.

“We generate an enormous amount of waste, caused mainly by pervasive consumerism determined on producing items with a short lifespan,” says the Polish woman.

“Most of these waste items are perfectly suitable for repurposing. When we repurpose and reuse items, the demand for new ones goes down and we decrease the amount of waste dumped in landfills.”

Tables and guitars before and after upcycling.Tables and guitars before and after upcycling.

Everything can be upcycled, according to Kurzynska, even plastic.

“It is a matter of imagination, tools and skills and it depends on the scale of the pro-ject. You can upcycle tin cans, jars, corks, pallets, cardboards, plastic bottles, glass bottles, old furniture, textiles, etc.

“It is also possible to create new stuff from old plastic, however, its utility depends on the structure, complexity and scale. There are many projects using plastic bottles to build houses, green houses, boats, etc and also others focusing on producing new items from the melted/formed plastic waste previously shredded into tiny pieces.”

Kurzynska adds that it is not necessarily difficult or time-consuming to alter stuff and make it useful, although some jobs do require more experience, tools and skills. She, however, assures that “with good guidance and by following health and safety rules, all projects are possible.”

Pallets can be turned into furniture and home decor; corks can become seasonal decorations, trivets, coasters or frames; glass bottles can be turned into candle holders, vases and lamps; while old tyres can become seats, planters and shelves.

Kurzynksa spreads her green message through upcycling workshops for adults and children.

“Kids love crafts and need creative stimulation. During workshops we introduce upcycling to show them that they can use everyday items which they have at home to make toys instead of buying new ones. Parents are also very keen to join their kids. It gives them the opportunity to get to know each other better and learn more about their children’s skills and aspirations.”

She admits it might be easier to buy a new piece instead of spending time and effort repurposing old stuff, but she is certain that one would appreciate the end-product of a DIY job more, especially when considering other aspects.

“Upcycling gives you the opportunity to try new things, gain new skills and discover your own creativity. It helps our environment and society and can connect like-minded people.”

Tins used to create a musical instrument.Tins used to create a musical instrument.

Simple everyday items can be turned into toys.Simple everyday items can be turned into toys.

Marta Kurzynska: “Everything can be upcycled, even plastic.”Marta Kurzynska: “Everything can be upcycled, even plastic.”

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