Rubbish! Reuse Your Refuse

Kathleen Shaw - Contributing Writer
Posted on Monday 15th June 2009
Upcycling, a term coined by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their book Cradle to Cradle Remaking the Way We Make Things (North Point Press, 2002) is a way of using old, discarded materials to create new items and a trend that has taken craftivism by storm. Remember when you covered all your middle school textbooks in wrapping paper? That’s an old school example of upcycling. For some newer and more innovative takes on the trend, I browsed through Kate Shoup’s Rubbish! Reuse Your Refuse (Wiley, 2008). In addition to several projects of her own, Shoup has solicited the help of many different artists and crafters to create a number of items based on the upcycling principle. The book is packed with great photographs and the overall tone is very playful; every project has a name, usually with a pun involved. These range from clever, like Tiffany Moreland’s “You’re So Negative” project that shows you how to make a lampshade from old film negatives, to cheesy, but the whole effect is light-hearted. The skill and necessary tools also run the gamut; some crafts require only glue and some junk, others assume you have a glass-cutter and a working knowledge of soldering irons. Kudos must be given though, to the instructions for necessary stitches, such as the blanket stitch, on Allison Brideau and Melissa Mazgaj’s purse project. Details and tips like this make the book helpful and informative. A great introduction by Shoup talks about the values of upcycling and lists places to look for general materials with an emphasis on finding them over purchasing when possible. Shoup’s book has some truly innovative ideas, but in an effort to cram in as much upcycling as possible, a few projects left me wondering exactly what purpose they served. A lot of the specific materials I would have to buy second hand, such as a clutch made from the webbing of old lawn chairs, and in the interest of cutting back on consumerism in general, some things I would rather just skip. I know it’s reused, but I don’t need a little man made of wire and cork to hold my pencil. Crafts like this aside, the book is definitely worth perusing, if only to generate ideas for materials to use and projects to try on your own. And the next time you have a party, I highly recommend the “Rock n’ Bowl” project. All you need is an old LP and an oven to make an awesome dish for snacks in just minutes.

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