By Madeline Bankson
As landfills brim with waste and ocean plastic amasses, artists and businesses are turning to creative reuse as a responsible avenue for sourcing materials. Could creative reuse be part of the green cultural shift we need in order to preserve the world’s oceans?
Creative reuse (also known as upcycling) is the action of repurposing of an already manufactured item or material for a new function. Whereas traditional recycling breaks down “waste” materials in order to convert them into entirely new products, creative reuse cleverly adapts older items into new ones, avoiding traditional recycling’s energy costs and inefficient output. In addition to its major environmental advantages, creative reuse can be a fun artistic outlet and a major money saver. Above all, AltaSea is invested in the possibilities creative reuse offers for our oceans and the creatures which inhabit them.
People in less industrialized countries have been upcycling since before it was a Pinterest trend. In many cases, creative reuse is simply a common sense solution when proper waste infrastructure isn’t accessible. As more people wake up to the environmental movement, crafters and consumers in the United States have started to bring reuse to the mainstream.
This reuse wave has grown in part due to the hard work of community reuse centers. These spaces collect discarded materials so that the public can give them new life, providing affordable green materials and educating the public about sustainable consumption habits. There are over 120 creative reuse centers in the United States, five of which are located in the Los Angeles area. With public education, reuse has spread beyond the arts community to the mainstream. Increasingly, companies are starting to become hip to the popularity and profit potential of recycled materials. For example, a company known as SeaBags has created upscale, nautical- inspired accessories out of discarded boat sails. On an even larger scale, brand giants ASOS and Urban Outfitters both have incorporated lines of vintage pieces into their catalogs. Most impressively, Swedish upcyclers recently opened an entire mall that only sells items made of things donated or rescued from the trash. Given that fashion is one of the most wasteful industries on the planet, projects like these could have far reaching effects for the preservation of our environment.
If adopted on a global scale, creative reuse will be a central part of our struggle for cleaner oceans and a more liveable planet. In the United States specifically, the turn towards reuse cannot happen quickly enough. According to Scientific American, while US residents make up only five percent of the global population, we generate over fifty percent of the world’s waste.
Much of this waste comes in the form of single use plastic. Ocean advocates have noted that plastic harms the environment in several ways. For one, plastic packaging is amassing quickly in every nook and cranny of the ocean. You’ve probably heard of the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Caught in a gyre off the coast of California, this massive ecological hazard occupies a chunk of ocean the size of Saudi Arabia. What’s more, as plastics break down in the environment, microplastics, or tiny microfibers of plastic, are mistakenly consumed by fish and birds. This sad reality regularly leads to premature death for over 700 aquatic species, and the effects of this ripple through the food chain with worrying speed. Alarmingly, a recent study found that plastic absorbed through our food supply is now present in nearly all human digestive tracts.
Creative reuse seeks to combat this major plastic problem by encouraging us to use the plastic we already have rather than needlessly producing more. Plastic is a popular medium for upcycled practical gadgets, sculpture, and even two dimensional art like that of Denise Hughes. Hughes, located in North Carolina, uses found bottle caps to produce beautiful seascapes depicting marine life. A lover of water, her work is intended to connect the viewer’s own consumption of plastics with the importance of the ocean as a shared global resource and habitat.
In addition to removing waste from our environment and lessening the pollution of the air and water, the creative reuse movement may also prevent ocean warming and other climate related catastrophes. Because it doesn’t require factories to produce new materials or fuel for shipping, creative reuse greatly reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Notably, every ton of textiles that’s reused prevents twenty extra tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. If reusing what we have instead of tossing it becomes common practice, it’s clear our planet’s oceans would benefit on multiple fronts. While AltaSea will always advocate for environmental regulation on a systemic scale, cultural shifts like the creative reuse movement also play an important role in promoting responsible ocean stewardship.
About the author:
Madeline Bankson is a recent graduate of Vassar College and holds a degree in Geography and Hispanic Studies. Madeline works on various issues related to city planning, environmental sustainability, and social justice. Based in North Carolina, Madeline can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/mabankson/ or firstname.lastname@example.org.