14 June 2022

Upcycling: the beneficial re-use that reallocates and ennobles waste

An upgrade of recycling, the antidote to downcycling and the creative reinterpretation of the concept of vintage, this virtuous habit vanquishes waste competition and puts products, raw materials and objects back into circulation, giving them a new, unforeseen life.

Often, circularity is a simple fact of perspective.

Think about it... Don't you think that sometimes it would be enough to broaden our field of vision, to get out of our box of established habits and to demolish what has always been taken for granted, to make room for new solutions?

The question is rhetorical, but the answer "yes" is anything but trivial: giving ourselves the opportunity to look at what we have to hand as something that has many other possibilities of proving its worth, a precious resource to obtain more, is an unmissable opportunity.

It means saving preconceived waste from an already written destiny, giving it a superior quality and a novel purpose. Turning a fruit box into a modern and sophisticated piece of furniture, for example.

And it is precisely with the sum of these small intuitions that the environmental revolution occurs.


Upcycling: who invented it, who tried and who succeeded 

Having some coordinates, on the road to progress, is always a good thing.

To begin with, it so happens that this specific journey began with a practical attempt, only later dwelling on the need to give it a name.

The first time of an upcycling process dates back to 1963, when Heineken tried to transform used and abandoned beer bottles into building bricks. The campaign was given the name Wobo, but the times were evidently not ripe and the (construction industry) endeavour did not catch on.

The second time was the successful one: ten years later, architects Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver legitimised a new design method, giving objects and materials which have always been part of our world original roles and meanings other than those we are used to: this is how, to all intents and purposes, the idea of upcycling was born.

It must be said… Alfred Heineken's idea was a winning one and destined to defeat the risk of oblivion. For this reason, in 1994 the term upcycling was coined by a German mechanical engineer, Reiner Pilz, who on the pages of the architecture and antiquities magazine Salvo declared: What we need is up-cycling, thanks to which old products are given greater value”.

Upcycling, recycling, downcycling and vintage: a reading guide

Many terms have been coined for the topic of "reuse", and it would be better not to get confused.

The first foothold is given by the prefixes, which allow us to understand value and disvalue in no uncertain terms. If "up" implies a reuse with an improved result, "down" does not hide the decay of the product in question: an inevitable loss of quality and usefulness.

What about recycling? Since the dawn of time, it has been considered a virtuous practice, to be adopted and suggested house-to-house. Recovering is essential, especially now that the environmental emergency requires us to change course, but it has a limit: that of returning the waste object to its previous purpose, without redesigning it and giving it new dignity.

In a nutshell: recycling means going back to the beginning. With the harsh risk that sometimes the properties of the material are lost (downcycling, for the most attentive) and the possibilities of use are dangerously reduced.

What about upcycling? Well, it involves providing an increased value to waste. When one cycle ends, a new one begins: yes, but with a higher value.

In between there is vintage, for the fashion industry and not only. In common with recycling, it has the same starting purpose. But like upcycling, it has the ability to increase the perception of quality and desirability of that object (for true connoisseurs).

And how is creative reuse carried out?

Another marginal note: recycling comes into play at the end-of-life stage and “reassures” the consumer about its environmental consequences. But expectations end there, at the time of disposal in the recycling bins.

Being able to see the beginning of a new life in an old object does not just mean having contributed to prolong it. It is much more, as it also closely affects our aesthetic and emotional interests. Knowing how to redesign the history of an object, imagining what else it could become, is a satisfying experiment. It saves us money, of course, but most of all it broadens our imaginative capacity.

There are two ways to upcycle: pre-consumer and post-consumer. The consumer is the watershed between the infinite functions that can be attributed to a material, before or after it reaches his or her hands.

An example? In the first case, manufacturers can employ used scraps of fabric to make a garment. Technically, therefore, that waste has never yet intersected the consumer’s life. In the second, they can modify used clothes, which have already had to do with a person wearing them. And this can be done both by a brand and by the self-same buyer... net of a little more resourcefulness.


Fashion, furniture, but also cosmetics: upcycling made in Oway

To stick with the numbers: clothing waste is estimated at 92 million tons every year. Do you have any idea of the amount of energy and resources spent on making clothes?

What about the food thrown away systematically, both at home and throughout the supply chain of the large-scale distribution? Almost 1 billion tons of food is wasted every year in the world, equal to 17% of all that produced.

Often foodstuffs that are still edible and could be destined for human or animal consumption. Except that, in the absence of any possible alternative use, they are disposed of.

Let's take the olive stone: having exploited the pulp, one would think that all its beneficial properties have been exploited. And instead... although the stone is not eaten, it is a mine of properties just like the pulp.

For the food industry? No, for the cosmetic one.

Thanks to that value that is still alive, to that richness which resurfaces when changing the intended use, Oway has chosen to include an active ingredient from the upcycling process in all the agricosmetic families of the new Styling & Finish line.

From certified producers in Emilia Romagna, the Alps, Calabria and Tuscany, we recover olive stones, seeds of the wild apple, orange pulp and pomace: waste, from a food consumption perspective, from which we extract decisive functional elements for cosmetic formulations.

Waste that becomes a resource, waste with an enormous value that comes back into circulation by reducing the (uncontrolled) squander of new raw materials.



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