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Upcycling is new wave of sustainability

- Rob Smith is principal architect at CMBA | Smith Metzger.

Sustainable design has moved from “recycling at the curb” to “using recycled products” to “giving life to an unused waste stream” also known as upcycling.

Companies are exploring the planet for a waste stream and then deciding what to make from it.

An unused waste stream like all the plastic in the oceans has been harnessed by Adidas.  Last year Adidas in partnership with Parley For The Oceans announced a running shoe made from a previously unused waste stream.  The shoe’s upper will be made from plastic removed from the ocean.  Adidas is working on how to use the plastic for the soles of running shoes also.

How about Looptworks.  An apparel company that goes out and finds a waste stream of fabric or leather and then upcycles it to a new product. They got wind of Southwest Airlines refurbishing its jets and replacing 80,000 airplane seats.  They walked away with 40 acres of leather to make bags for carry-on luggage.

Those examples got me thinking of other waste streams that could be upcycled:

  • All those metal containers for holiday candies and cookies.
  • Worn out jeans
  • Old computers and printers

Let me know if you have a waste stream you have been thinking about at rsmith@smithmetzger.com


I use the metal containers to store Christmas decorations in. They keep them very nicely. Otherwise, they are the same as tin cans which we can recycle in the Metro Waste containers in Des Moines. The Salvation Army takes old jeans and people use the Salvation Army stores as a source for jean materials when they make bags or other crafts from them. Kids like distressed jeans, anyway. I think Best Buy or one of the office supply stores takes old computers and printers. I have heard that barges loaded with these go to China for some type of recycling.
My daughter-in-law is recycling plastic shopping bags by cutting them in strips and crocheting the strips into shopping bags. Paper from magazines can be rolled tightly and woven like wicker into handbags, or cut in strips and rolled into beads for jewelry. Or newspapers can be shredded and used as compost.

Worn out blue jeans are already used to make insulation. When I was growing up on the farm, my mother cut them up and used them to patch my dad's and my brother's blue jeans.

I use newspapers and cardboard for mulch in the garden. Lay it down and throw a thin layer of more attractive mulch on top if your neighbors don't like to see it.

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