“Upcycling” is the use of worn, dated or discarded materials to create something new. Usually, the repurposed or recycled items might otherwise have been disposed of. The result is often more beautiful than something created from new, raw materials because it has been revived and reborn. Beyond simple efficiency and reducing waste, upcyclers find greater value in material that has matured and served a previous purpose. It’s not merely an acceptable substitute for new materials but a preferable media.
Some upcycling materials have been reclaimed from the elements. Take, for example, the reclaimed wood used in Moxie Kitchen+Cocktails. Moxie is the first non-chain restaurant to be built from the ground up in the St. Johns Town Center. Chef Tom Gray chose to inscribe some of his Maine heritage on this tabula rasa. At Moxie, reclaimed wood from Maine Heritage Timber was used to create bar tops, table tops, wall treatments and benches. The result is a unique design that cannot be duplicated. Maine Heritage Timber uses reclaimed wood harvested from the bottoms of lakes and rivers in Maine. The wood has been preserved by the chilly water temperatures and has character and beauty not found in new wood. The industrious folks in this company create high-quality wood products from the sunken virgin growth timber abandoned at the height of the logging gold rush. As a side effect, this one company alone prevents thousands of acres of timberland from being cut annually.
Repurposed wood and architectural elements compose another side of upcycling. Many companies salvage wood from old barns, buildings and homes to be given new life and sometimes a new purpose. An old door can be used to create a new table top or headboard. Ecorelics is a Jacksonville business dedicated to keeping usable construction supplies out of landfills and saving as many architectural remnants as possible. They are located in an old freight depot on Stockton Street. Open to the public, the showroom features salvaged doors, windows, mantles and plumbing fixtures as well as reclaimed building materials and even used electrical equipment and tools.
Sometimes surprising elements can result from upcycling. A new purpose for an old piece of hardware, furniture or random item can be imaginative or playful. For example, the pendant lights at Knead Bakeshop in Murray Hill started out life as large, commercial-grade whisks.
Upcycling is not merely exclusive to interior design, but also extends to fashion and accessories. Jacksonville company, Burro Bags, creates durable messenger bags from repurposed vinyl on billboards. The bags were born out of the creator’s need for a bike bag capable of withstanding their daily cycling commute from Springfield to UNF. They searched for a strong and flexible material and found that the billboard vinyl had a cool, graphic look with the added benefit of preventing another addition to the local landfill.
Upcycling can even be credited with renewing lives. Local OneSpark success story, Rethreaded, provides training and employment for women coming out of lives of addiction, violence, human trafficking and prostitution. These women are paid a living wage and become artisan seamstresses, transforming donated t-shirts into new creations for sale. Their signature item is “the Grace scarf.” They also create unique pillow covers and tote bags out of old t-shirts that would otherwise be discarded. Rethreaded won the top prize at the 2013 inaugural OneSpark and has recently gained national attention by becoming a finalist in the Martha Stewart “American Made” Awards.
With the growing focus on sustainable living, extending the usefulness of products that would otherwise end up in landfills has become part of a potential solution to the waste produced by modern lifestyle. By using a little creativity and having an eye for unexpected uses, all sorts of products can find new life through upcycling.
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