Why Up-cycling is One of My Favorite Models of Impact

Image via  PopSugar

Image via PopSugar

This is the first in a series of posts written by verynice staff, volunteers, friends, and family to share stories and details behind their favorite models of impact. 

Let’s be honest for a moment— many of us know the term, up-cycle, from those clever DIY Pinterest boards urging readers to turn an old pair of jeans into a tote bag or an empty wine bottle into a pendant lamp (“all you need is a bottle cutter and a butane torch!”). Don’t get me wrong, I love Pinterest, but the thought of acquiring the materials, the dexterity, and the emotional maturity I would need to bounce back from a potential #pinterestfail after it’s all over just doesn’t seem like it’s worth it.

However, I recently learned there’s more to up-cycling than Pinterest would have us understand. More than ever, companies and organizations are making up-cycling a core part of their business model. For example, the athletic wear company, Atayne, makes its gear out of 100% recycled polyester. The company, TerraCycle, has customers send in difficult-to-recycle waste items, which they convert into products like backpacks and even recycled park benches.

Companies like Atayne and TerraCycle aren’t just admirable from a sustainability perspective, although they are making a positive difference in that sphere as well. By proving that they can make a high quality product with preexisting materials, they are also contributing to an important shift away from a pervasive belief in our culture that new is always superior.

In a sense, up-cycling is almost the answer to another movement that is simultaneously (and quickly) gaining more traction—fast fashion. By empowering consumers to achieve constant turnover in their wardrobes with low-quality, low-cost merchandise, fast fashion companies effectively teach consumers that quantity is better than quality and new is better than old.

The constant turnover of material items certainly isn’t a new or trendy belief in our culture— but I do notice a stark difference between my age group (the older side of Gen Y) and my grandparent’s generation in our attitudes toward our possessions. For instance, my grandmother will repurpose an old dress by altering it and dyeing it a different color. My grandparents also recently got a “new” couch by reupholstering and re-stuffing the cushions in their old one.

I suppose what I really learned is that up-cycling isn’t a recent trend— it’s just a new word for a lost art. At a time when many companies are manufacturing low quality and easy-to-obtain merchandise that we are encouraged to use and replace quickly, we should take a good look at what companies like TerraCycle and Atayane are doing. When more companies embrace this model, we might just see a positive shift away from constantly wanting more and toward valuing what we already have. 

—Renae Getlin, verynice Marketing Coordinator


Models of Impact is a strategic business-design consultancy for social entrepreneurs & non-profit executives. Click here to see a comprehensive map of every existing impact-driven model.