Beyond lampshades - Teaching upcycling in a meaningful way
Paper in proceedings, 2017
Upcycling reuses waste materials to create products of higher quality/value. While upcycling is commonly described as important from a sustainability perspective and frequently appear as a theme in design education, several aspects remain unaddressed: How upcycling is done, how much waste is repurposed and the overall environmental impact of upcycling activities are often not adequately assessed. This article explores these aspects based on experiences from upcycling teaching activities recently carried out: six upcycling thesis projects in Sweden, and two upcycling workshops in China.
These different experiences make it clear that involving interested manufacturers is crucial if any effect is going to be obtained from the upcycling activities. Since the task of designing with waste is so undefined, restricting manufacturing options as well as a target user group helps narrow the possible solution space. To use “virgin” industrial waste makes the process easier, since the input material is known and clean. Upcycling post-consumer waste could have an even larger positive environmental effect, but it is difficult since there is a lack of reliable material information. To conclude, if upcycling is to be part of a sustainable design syllabus, it should be ambitious. In order to move beyond ‘lampshades’ and similar demonstrational cases, one needs to strive towards a systematic process and methodology for upcycling, as well as involve relevant stakeholders that can make use of the results. The aim should be ‘industrial scale’, and not one of a kind solutions.