Upcycled for good: Brands that repurpose trash to treasure

Even as throwaway culture dominates consumption, a handful of brands are working to reimagine goods destined for the landfill.

Upcycling items past their usable life is a common practice in economically challenged communities where economic hardship or individual ingenuity drive the need to re-purpose possessions for a new life. While socio-economic conditions in developed nations are vastly dissimilar, the world has come full circle from a time of plenty to a time when manmade and natural resources, and human capacity to live off these is approaching the limit.

The business of upcycling

Upcycling is an emerging but tough line of business, and upcycling companies are motivated by a mix of concern for the environment, better technologies for producing upcycled goods, uptick in consumer preference for such goods, and the practical as well as environmental advantages of high quality and long-life upcycled products. With innovative merchandise and a sturdy commitment to the upcycling cause, a handful of upcycling businesses have built brands that are truly making a difference.

Upcycled – committed to the creative reuse of refuse

Starting out in 2011 as a small local business in Missoula, Montana – Upcycled works with a local selection of individuals and small businesses they call ‘upcycling artists’. Upcycled claims all products are made from over 50% repurposed materials, and make most products with 95% or more repurposed materials. Upcycle offers a platform for local talent through the large variety in-store and via the Upcycled website, so conscious buyers don’t have to go looking for brands and products. On offer is a quirky and charming range of apparel, musical products, jewellery and accessories.

Looptworks – to use only what already exists

Looptworks (pronounced, looped wurks) is a Portland, Oregon based business that re-purposes and upcycles abandoned, pre-consumer and post-consumer materials into limited edition products. They claim all the materials they use were headed to the landfill, but eventually re-purposed into sustainable, eco-friendly products made in limited editions. The company produces branded limited-edition merchandise for airlines, businesses and even the NBA. The collections are available on the Looptwork virtual store.

IWAS – Upcycled as a route to environmental sustainability

Their homepage displays an image of a bottled with the words, ‘I was a lost bottle polluting the world’. It probably explains the name of this Indo-Belgian joint venture that believes in ‘making things better, starting from objects we use every day’. IWAS has a small and classy portfolio of 100% upcycled and handcrafted products, but a big commitment to the socio-economic aspects of upcycling, sustainability and the environment. They sell in India and Europe also supply personalised corporate products on order.

ReTuna – the world’s first recycling mall

With a claim to revolutionise shopping in a climate-smart way, ReTuna has changed the playing field for upcycling retail. The idea germinated from a municipal-owned entity’s proposition to open a mall that had “regular” shops, but with a reused and upcycled range of products. The mall is devoted to selling old items made reusable through repair and upcycling. ReTuna also claims everything they sell is recycled or reused or has been organically or sustainably produced. ReTuna also includes a recycling depot, conference facility, cafe, a repair and education centre, and hosts study visits and guided tours.

Image via ReTuna

ReTuna does not sell online, but if you’re in Eskilstuna, Sweden, you can visit the mall for shopping. If you’re curious, book a guided tour (temporarily suspended at the time of writing) to the mall for a behind the scenes view of operations. ReTuna will inevitably invite comparison to its more famous Swedish counterpart, Ikea, but it may have already stamped a claim to being the Ikea of upcycling. We are witnessing the start of a new retail trend.

You too can contribute to the cycle of upcycling by transforming something useless into something useful at home. Start with this primer on the benefits of upcycling, see how we made a wish jar at home, transformed a coffee container into useful items, made a puppet from a sock and puppet theatre from cardboard. is upcycling

This week, we at are in the mood for upcycling. Through June 15 to June 21, we’ll share the virtues of upcycling, help you upcycle at home, and show us what we upcycled. Stay tuned to and get stuck upcycling projects back in motion, or feel the high of doing it for the first time!

By Romeo Coutinho

Rationalist, truth seeker, full time writer, part time dreamer.

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