In the midst of the green revolution people around the world are partaking in, a new jargon has developed. Words have been dissected, reconstructed and given new meaning. A fourth ‘re’ has been added to the recycle, reuse and reduce – REFUSE, probably the most important of the three. The word recycled has been divided into two parts, downcycling and upcycling.
The terms were coined by Reiner Pilz, who talked about recycling, as we know it, as ’downcycling’. Recycling is a process that gives products less value, wastes unnecessary energy and still consumes raw materials. ‘Upcycling’, on the other hand, uses existing materials to create new products.
Upcycling is quite a prevalent method used in South African crafts. Plastic bags are turned into flamingos and pigs, and sold on the side of the road. Tea bags are used to create artwork in Imizamo Yethu, litter collected off the beach in Kommetjie is turned into beautiful sculptures by KEAG, to name a few.
In the world of food growing, people have adopted many upcycling techniques. My aunt who is based at a school in Hackney, London, built a greenhouse for their seedlings out of 2100 2 litre soda bottles. Pat from Soil for Life has her earthworm farms in old baths, and I have seen plenty of food gardens growing out of old toilet bowls, tires, herbs growing in old boots and list goes on.
On the Oranjezicht farm we have one large project where we have upcycled the pile of concrete and rock we found on site into paving. Instead of the concrete being taken off site and turned into finer rubble at some processing plant, we chose to incorporate it in to the design of the farm. The guys have worked hard at putting the puzzle of all of the oddly shaped sized pieces together but the final result is wonderful. The left over concrete will be used for barrier walls (see picture below).
Creativity plays a big role in conserving our planet, finding new uses for unwanted plastic, wood and other materials is a challenge, but one that will most likely use less energy and reduce the pressure on our landfills.