Extreme upcycling

We all know about recycling, re-using stuff which might otherwise have been thrown away (and we all know that there is no “away”, don’t we?) and “upcycling” is the next refinement of the idea. Many of my favourite examples are in the arts and crafts area – Waste to Wonder‘s inner-tube jewellery, for instance – but the National Gallery of Victoria’s Triennial (Dec 2017 – April 2018) had some extreme examples.

upcycling - cabinet
Computer cases become drawers

Dutch design studio Formafantasma exhibited several pieces of furniture created primarily from tech waste, such as the computer-case drawers at left.
Their design and construction was superlative, and I enjoyed their quirky decorative use of small items of tech junk.

The designers’ notes on the project point out that “by 2080 most remaining metals will have been extracted from the ground” and that, therefore, “the era of above-ground mining is upon us.”

“Above-ground mining” is a term which will stay with me as a useful shorthand for resource recovery. The furniture itself? Wonderful in the right setting, but the right setting is edgy, urban, post-industrial … not my style, really.

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Gyro table

Tasmanian-born designer Brodie Neill has taken perhaps the most problematic waste stream on earth, the plastics swirling around our oceans, as the inspiration and source material of his Gyro, table. The terrazzo of its top is composed of fragments of marine plastics set in resin.

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Gyro table – detail of surface

As the Triennial’s website (follow the link above) says,

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has identified marine plastics as a significant environmental and economic problem – reporting that we are producing between 220 million – 300 million tonnes of plastic globally per year. Of that volume, an estimated eight million tonnes is added to the ocean every year. … Research suggest that if we continue at this rate the oceans will contain more plastic by weight than fish by 2050.

This, to my mind, is the environmental problem which will rise to the top of our list once global warming is tamed, and we should thank Neill and the NGV for highlighting it in this elegantly challenging way – “challenging” because, no matter how beautiful it is, the table will confront users on a daily basis with the detritus of their (our) lifestyle. That will also be true of anything else made with the same material, while the use of resin means that the material’s net contribution to to waste reduction is slight. In the end, therefore, Gyro is primarily a work of art which takes the form of a piece of furniture.

Related: As Wikipedia observes, upcycling, as “the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality or of better environmental value,” is a concept of the late 1990s which has a lot of potential applications and was “incorporated by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things,” a book I reviewed some years ago. I incorporated that review in a relevant post here more recently.

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