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Upcycling: Re-imagining Our Waste


"Nature does not know the concept of waste; the only species capable of making something no one desires is the human species." 
- Gunter Pauli
  Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives

Every day, people everywhere churn out mountains of plastic and non-biodegradable waste which threaten to eclipse our living spaces. At one point in time people all over the world simply threw their “waste” onto the ground where it was reabsorbed into the earth. The idea of waste as we know it today was a completely foreign concept. Modern attitudes around waste and our general lack of awareness about the amount and types of trash we produce indicate the desperate need for an innovative new approach to this issue. Upcycling, the practice of converting waste materials into products of greater value, is a philosophy that transforms the way we conceive of waste. Upcycling is not just a solution to a problem, but a new method of thinking about and working with an asset (formerly known as garbage) which is already present in abundance in our communities.

The Berkana Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization working in partnership with a rich diversity of people around the world who strengthen their communities by working with the wisdom and wealth already present in their people, traditions and environment. Berkana believes that upcycling is a practice and way of thinking that can lead to more self-reliance and resilience in communities everywhere. We’ve created this online portal to provide a rich learning space to advance our collective knowledge around how to transform waste into an asset. Berkana’s beliefs about how change happens begin with the practice of “naming”: We recognize that pioneers often act in isolation, unaware that they are part of a broader community of kindred practitioners.

By noticing and naming the practice of upcycling, Berkana invites a learning community to form in which practitioners exchange ideas and co-create new solutions. We hope the practice of upcycling will become a natural way of living—that it becomes just what we do. By sharing stories from around the world, we will begin to demonstrate that upcycling isn’t some harebrained idea; instead, it is simply a better way to live on this small planet. In our work at Berkana for the past four years, we have learned that it is through these kinds of communities that learning accelerates, and healthy and robust practices develop quickly. As communities of practice develop their expertise and stay together, emergence into a system of influence becomes possible.

  • Upcycling with Style(ists) Featured Blog Post Upcycling with Style(ists) Upcycling with Style(ists)

    I was not expecting the invitation that arrived in Berkana’s inbox late last year to give an upcycling workshop for 100 of Redken UK’s top clients. I still haven’t any idea... More »

  • Join the Trashure Campaign! Featured News Article Join the Trashure Campaign! Join the Trashure Campaign!

    The Upcycling Initiative Oaxaca is starting an exciting new partnership with the Kaospilots program in Denmark. Five amazing students are coming to Oaxaca to help us determine the... More »

  • everydaytrash dot com Featured Article everydaytrash dot com everydaytrash dot com

    Another really impressive blog about what we're currently doing with our trash and what it might become. Leila Darabi, the creator of this rich resource says that everydaytrash... More »

  • The Visible Trash Society Featured Article The Visible Trash Society The Visible Trash Society

    This great blog is an incredible gold mine (or trash heap) of information about upcycling in its many forms. It includes information on everything from books about upcycling, to... More »

  • Haute Trash Featured Article Haute Trash Haute Trash

    Haute Trash is an awesome organization that hosts "trashion shows" and shows up at a variety of different events all over the U.S. in their haute trash couture. It is incredible... More »

  • The Story of Stuff Featured Article The Story of Stuff The Story of Stuff

    What is the Story of Stuff? From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden... More »

  • Jo Hanson's dream come true Featured Blog Post Jo Hanson's dream come true Jo Hanson's dream come true

    That's a picture of Jo Hanson, the San Francisco activist (dead now) who founded the artists-in-residency program at the San Francisco dump. I posted about it on my blog, Visible... More »

  • Project BridesMADE Featured Blog Post Project BridesMADE Project BridesMADE

    Dearest Upcylcers, I am soliciting your help and expertise. During my twenties, I amassed a small collection of single-use ball gowns otherwise known as bridesmaid dresses. And... More »

Recently Updated
Join the Trashure Campaign! Last Updated on 2012-04-02 00:00:00 The Upcycling Initiative Oaxaca is starting an exciting new partnership with the Kaospilots program in Denmark. Five amazing students are coming to Oaxaca to help us determine the viability of the Upcycling Initiative moving to the next level in the small community of San Sebastián Teitipac. We are raising some funds to support the collaboration. Please support our Indiegogo fundraising campaign to help this collaboration happen! Click here to see the awesome campaign page and SPREAD THE WORD! Click here to see the video! Here's some more info: Our Story: Turning trash into treasure (Trashure!) is our mission. Waste is the most abundant resource available on the planet. It literally is everywhere. How can we make use of it and create value for everyone involved? Every day, people everywhere churn out mountains of plastic and non-biodegradable waste which threaten to eclipse our... More »
Eco-Casas en el Basurero de Oaxaca Last Updated on 2011-10-09 17:01:11 These are shots taken by SiKanda and friends during their recent collaboration with Techamos la Mano Oaxaca and other civil organizations in the city of Oaxaca. The purpose was construction of four houses with Tetrapak and PET bottles at the municipal dump. Estas son fotos tomadas por SiKanda y otros amigos durante su colaboración reciente con Techamos la Mano Oaxaca y otras organizaciones civiles en la ciudad de Oaxaca. El propósito fue la construcción de cuatro casas con Tetrapak y botellas de PET en el basurero municipal. More »
Waste to Wealth Tour Last Updated on 2011-10-09 00:00:00 Conserve India is an industrious upcycling business formerly based in Delhi, but now located in Bahadurgarh, Haryana, India. The Upcycling Portal posted an article about their work that you can read here. The organization also worked to try to upcycle waste from the 2010 Commonwealth Games which you can read more about here. A few months ago I received this notice from Conserve about "Waste to Wealth" tours that the company was going to be hosting in and around Delhi. Here is what the notice says: "A learning journey for the eco-minded tourist, the Waste to Wealth tour brings you through the process of how discarded plastic bags can be converted into high quality fashion products in a way that benefits both the environment and slum dwellers. Also experience firsthand the problems the ragpicking community face through a visit to a local slum." Here are the highlights: SHOPPING! The tour... More »
Visiting La Colonia Renacimiento Last Updated on 2011-09-30 00:00:00 This week I visited the dump. For all of my big talk about how much I love garbage and have a passion for trash, I am ashamed to say that I haven't been to a landfill since I was a kid. I had the opportunity to visit the municipal basurero of Oaxaca, located beside Colonia Renacimiento (the neighborhood of rebirth), because of my friends Jose Carlos and Aurelia. They started an organization called SiKanda (Solidaridad Internacional Kanda) that works with some of the folks that live in Renacimiento, the pepenadores. These are the hearty souls that sort through the thousands of kilos of trash that arrive at the dump every day and separate out materials that can be sold and recycled (or upcycled, I suppose). I had been wanting to visit the basurero in Oaxaca for about a year and a half and to meet some of the pepenadores that I had heard so much about. I was very excited. But as we came... More »
Redken Upcycling Workshop Last Updated on 2011-07-03 20:52:49 Some flicks from a workshop hosted by Aerin Dunford in San Diego, California with Redken U.K. at their annual conference. More »