Plastic Upcycling: What exactly is it?

Above: team from myEnvironment myWealth are building an entire library using plastic bottles stuffed with red mud to make "eco-bricks" in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

By WONNE Afronelly

The term "upcycling" is relatively new in our vocabulary. It is an art form that transforms a discarded item (trash) or something of low value (plastic bottle) into something of higher value. Some say upcycling is a form of recycling, and many times both terms are used interchangeably, but we think it's something more.

Upcycling is the process of adapting used or waste material to create a new product offering with a greater value and content.

 

The exterior material of the Evolution Convertible Backpack is made from remnants that otherwise would be discarded. We use scraps cutaway in the construction of another product that, in the past, were too small to use and were sent to the landfill.  We rescue those pieces and repurpose them for the exterior, main fabric. The material, Olefin, is lightweight, strong, and highly stain-resistant. It's a synthetic fabric but is considered eco-friendly. 

Here are some similarities and discrepancies: Upcycling vs. Recycling

Upcycling begins from the same start point as recycling aimed at reusing an item so that it has a longer lifespan before it gets discarded as waste giving it a higher quality and value. Recycling also reuses an object so that it has a longer lifespan before discarded as waste, but the product eventually, is of lesser quality and value.

A good illustration is upcycling a piece of sea urchin shell (little or no value) into a necklace pendant of more value without destroying the integrity of the shell. Another example is recycling plastic chairs to produce plastic kiddies toys of lesser value.

Above: The team of young advocates of myEnvironment myWealth are building an entire library using plastic bottles stuffed with laterite (red mud) to make "eco-bricks." The laterite serves as an insulating substance to ensure cool indoor temperatures, especially when the sun's intensity is very high and saves the cost of installing air conditioners that use up so much energy. The plastic bottle bricks are strong enough to make the house bulletproof; in areas where there are insurgence and conflicts, people would be at less risk.

What then is Plastic Upcycling?

It is the creative reuse of transforming plastic waste materials into new materials of better quality and environmental value.

The Need For Plastic Upcycling

Plastics in various forms are non-biodegradable and persist in the environment for a very long time. According to a recent report by UNEP, there will be a 50/50 ratio of plastic to fish in the oceans by 2050. Plastic waste is a severe matter of concern due to its disruptive impact on the environment. 

Benefits of Plastic Upcycling: Why individuals, groups, corporate bodies, industries, and the government should upcycle plastic

CO2 Reduction

According to NASA, CO2 levels in the air are higher than at any time in the past 400,000 years. Upcycling plastics can help reduce CO2 from burning plastic trash.

Conservation, reduction in raw materials, energy and cost of production

Upcycling plastics reduces the amount of waste that gets to landfills. Most plastics contain dangerous chemicals that cause soil degradation and water pollution.

Supporting local industries

Upcycling plastics helps to support local businesses and industries and helps entrepreneurs in waste management.

Upcycling Single-Use Polyethylene into High-Quality Liquid Products

Catalytic processes that convert waste Polyethylene into value-added products are vital to mitigating the adverse impacts of plastic pollution and developing a circular economy.

myEnvironment myWealth are building an entire library using plastic bottles stuffed with mud

Plastic Upcycling Tips

Plastic bottles can be upcycled into flower pots, bird feeders, garden sprinklers, green parking canopy, chandeliers, Christmas trees, kid's toys, and more. Just google "plastic upcycling ideas" for 100s of fun home projects.

So, you see, buying upcycled products ensures that products aren't just unique but kinder to Earth too. Every upcycled item is exceptional and has a beautiful story behind it, so next time you want to gift something special to someone special, think of an upcycled item. If it is a special place for special people, consider a plastic bottle shelter!

Environmentalist and journalist WONNE Afronelly reports on municipal water systems, fisheries management and environmental sustainability issues as a writer for many years in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

 

Hug It Forward building

Hug It Forward

In Guatemala, Hug It Forward they have built an entire school using plastic bottles stuffed with inorganic trash to make "eco-bricks." Eco-bricks are used like the more common cinder-block constructions. They are created by stuffing inorganic trash like plastic grocery bags or chip wrappers into empty plastic soda bottles. They are sandwiched in between two layers of chicken wire and covered with cement to form the filling our bottle classroom walls.