As you all know, I’m a big fan of upcycling. Reusing unwanted materials and turning it into something useful again is a creative challenge that I really enjoy, it also gives me great satisfaction to know that I’m diverting waste from landfill and reducing the need for raw material manufacture. Recently, I had a chance to hear Tiffany Threadgould ‘The Queen of Upcycling’ speak about recycling, upcycling and innovative uses for waste products. Tiffany is the Chief Design Junkie at the recycling company Terracycle and works with a team of designers to come up with innovative ways of reusing hard to recycle ‘rubbish’ to create brand new products.
Waste is a natural resource in the wrong place. Change the context and you have usable products. – Daniel Freitag
Terrcycle specialises in coming up with recycling solutions for traditionally difficult to recycle plastics like cigarette butts (who knew they were made of plastic), oral care waste and coffee machine pods. Because many of these products are made from a blend of different plastics layered together they can’t be recycled by normal municipal programs and often end up in landfill.
Tiffany explained that the more formed the product is, the harder to upcycle. Products that are flexible can be treated like fabrics, sewn and reshaped into bags, pencil cases or even bibs.
Toothpaste tubes and food pouches are surprisingly easy to sew.
But the challenge comes with hard products like plastic trigger nozzles from cleaning products. Terracycle has programs to clean and reuse some products, eliminating the need to expend energy to recycle them in the first place. But rubbish like chewing gum and cigarette butts get melted down and pelletized to then be transformed into plant pots and garden pavers. Even though Tiffany has transformed cigarette butts into earrings, she admits that, that level of upcycling isn’t for everyone.
Hearing Tiffany speak about her design process and how she comes up with upcycling ideas for even the most challenging products like used diapers was inspiring. I’ll certainly be pushing myself more to use materials that I may not have given a second look at in the past (but I draw the line at dirty nappies!).
Cigarette butt earrings are not for everyone.
Tiffany also introduced the new partnership with Terracycle and Australia Post, that makes it easier for groups to collect waste and post it for free. They even offer national programs (“Brigades”) to collect previously non-recyclable or hard to recycle waste and for most programs pay a donation for each piece of waste collected. It’s a great way for schools to fund raise. Find out more about the Terracycle Brigades here.
So I’ve been re-inspired to get upcycling, have you been inspired too?