Recycling is a popular practice for us at TreeHugger, for obvious reasons: it prevents more junk from entering the waste stream, requires less new stuff to be manufactured, and, for the most part, is a green way to go. Even better than recycling, though, is a concept called “upcycling.” Coined by green gurus William McDonough and Michael Braungart in Cradle to Cradle [www.treehugger.com], their book on ecologically intelligent design, it’s the practice of taking something (often disposable or no longer of use) and transforming it into a product of greater value and use. So, it’s not recycling plastic bottles into plastic bottles; it’s recycling plastic bottles into clothing like Patagonia [www.treehugger.com] has been doing for awhile now.

TreeHugger has seen some great examples of the upcycling phenomenon. There have been some slightly odd things that we’ve seen; architect David Hertz took a Boeing 747 airplane and turned it in to a house [www.treehugger.com], for example, but there are lots of other mainstream examples. Argentinean designer Mercedes Bernárdez runs a firm called Chatarra, which means “metal scrap” in Spanish, who create everyday objects like vases, chairs and lamps [www.treehugger.com] from recycled aluminum. In the same vein, a company called Azcast makes furniture and interior decorations [www.treehugger.com] from sand-cast recycled aluminum (they’re so named because that’s how their products come out: “as cast”), and TreeHugger likes them well enough to have been featured twice [www.treehugger.com].

Metal certainly isn’t the only material that can be upcycled, though. We’ve found several examples of something as simple as newspaper (and other paper products) that’s been used to create well-designed, strikingly beautiful furniture. Check out designer Matt Gagnon’s paper side table [www.treehugger.com] or the incredible FlexibleLove expanding chair [www.treehugger.com] for more examples.

We also like to point people to Upcycle Art [www.treehugger.com], a site dedicated to inspiring us to see the value of materials in a product that has passed its prime and also offering comprehensive step-by-step instructions (with photos) of do-it-yourself upcycling projects. For another great example, hit up the Umbrella Inside Out design competitions [umbrella.treehugger.com], a duet of upcycling competitions for an all-new umbrella, and a couture garment made from nothing but old umbrellas; we think the results will probably surprise and impress you — they certainly did in the TreeHugger community. Upcycling is a great way to reuse materials, and becoming more prevalent and popular all the time. Stay tuned to our blog here for more great implementations of upcycling — it’s truly recycling for the 21st century.