Can Upcycling Be Profitable? We’re Banking on It.
- The term “upcycling” was originally coined by individuals trying to live more sustainable, self-sufficient lives. In recent years, the upcycling definition has grown to apply on an industrial scale.
- Today’s consumers are well aware that manufacturing creates a massive amount of waste each year. They want to be able to make purchases without feeling like they’re causing damage to the earth. In recent years, at least 50 percent of growth in the consumer goods sector has come from sustainable companies.
- A variety of companies are using new business models that rely on upcycled materials. Many of these models involve creating goods that sell at scale for great profit.
- At Miniwiz, we offer our upcycling solutions to make being eco-friendly easy. Our mission is to help organizations learn to use upcycled or recycled materials. Our projects make companies more sustainable, transforming industrial and household waste into useful products.
The term “upcycling” was originally coined by individuals trying to live more sustainable, self-sufficient lives. It referred to taking an unwanted household object and repurposing it, both diverting it from the waste stream and eliminating the need to purchase something new. Enterprising upcyclers might turn used clothing into a quilt or convert waste wood into a dining set.
In recent years, the upcycling definition has grown to apply on an industrial scale. Companies across the world are realizing that they can use upcycling for profit, meeting customer expectations while being friendlier to the environment.
Meeting Consumer Desires with Upcycled Goods
Many consumers are no longer satisfied with products that simply look nice and function well. They now expect the items they purchase to have been manufactured in a way that aligns with their personal values.
Today’s consumers are well aware that manufacturing creates a massive amount of waste each year. They want to be able to make purchases without feeling like they’re causing damage to the earth.
Research shows that, globally, 54 percent of consumers believe it’s important to live in a way that is good for the environment. Millennials are even more focused on eco-friendly consumption. Of this group, 87 percent are willing to pay more money for products that are sustainably made.
In recent years, at least 50 percent of growth in the consumer goods sector has come from sustainable companies. There’s a large market for upcycled products, which gives companies a big incentive to create them. They can enjoy greater profits while reducing their environmental footprint and fulfilling a market need.
Upcycling as a Business Model
A variety of companies are using new business models that rely on upcycled materials. Many of these models involve creating goods that sell at scale for great profit.
Fashion brands are embracing upcycling for profit through the use of “take-back” programs. When a take-back program is in place, a company allows customers to give old or unwanted clothes back to the company. Fashion brands sometimes offer gift cards, discounts, or credits to incentivize the clothes’ return.
Though some companies only take back their own brand of clothing, others are willing to collect clothing made by any brand. They can then donate or recycle this clothing and possibly even receive a tax deduction for doing so.
However, if the returned clothes are in good condition, some brands clean them and then sell them under a different label reserved for second-hand clothing. Other brands upcycle all clothes received, regardless of their condition. This allows them to make a second round of profits from the same materials.
Customers are drawn to upcycled fashion because it allows them to buy new clothes with less guilt. They can easily get rid of their old purchases knowing they’ll be transformed into something usable instead of sent to a landfill to contribute to pollution.
From Food Waste to Biodegradable Packaging
Product manufacturers aren’t the only ones upcycling. Packaging companies are also getting in on the action.
Cuantec, a Scottish packaging company, has developed biodegradable packaging that’s similar to plastic wrap, except it’s made primarily from chitin, a biopolymer that occurs naturally in insect casings and shrimp shells.
Cuantec extracts chitin from shells they’ve received from fish processing plants and even restaurants and then uses it to create biodegradable cling wrap. This system diverts waste from one industry and turns it into a usable product. It also reduces the waste that non-biodegradable plastic wrap creates, tuning the cycle into a virtually zero-waste loop.
A Closed-Loop Car Battery System
On average, people replace their cars every 6 years. Cars create an immense amount of waste, some of which is toxic. If we want to continue living in a world that relies on auto transportation, we will eventually need a more sustainable car manufacturing system.
Audi is working on just that. In a partnership with a materials technology company, it’s creating a closed-loop system in which old high-voltage car battery cells from electric vehicles are recycled. In early testing, Audi has been able to recover 90 percent of the cobalt and nickel contained in its old batteries, which can then be used in new car batteries.
Recycled car batteries represent a major step toward the goal of a completely carbon neutral car manufacturing system. Reusing the cobalt and nickel in batteries saves natural resources and reduces the amount of CO2 the company produces.
Miniwiz Upcycling Solutions
At Miniwiz, we take upcycling seriously. We’re well aware that a full truckload of plastic ends up in the ocean every single minute. If that rate of dumping continues, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. Our mission is to help capture that plastic — and other recyclable materials — so that, instead of contributing to pollution, it can be upcycled into something useful.
Upcycled Architecture Projects
We’ve helped many organizations with a variety of upcycled projects. One of our specialties is contract-based construction and design using recycled materials.
For example, the “House of Trash” is a 4,300-square-foot office and gallery space in Milan, Italy that has garnered international attention from architecture and design magazines. We transformed the interior of this building into a sleek, contemporary space, using all post-consumer materials for the furniture, art, and fixtures, with no glues, added chemicals, or VOCs.
Let Us Help You
Many companies are curious about upcycling, but they don’t know exactly how and where to start. There’s a persistent — and untrue — idea that using upcycled and recycled materials always costs more or is too time-consuming to figure out.
At Miniwiz, we offer our upcycling solutions to make being eco-friendly easy. Our mission is to help organizations learn to use upcycled or recycled materials. We have worked on designs for everything from consumer products to architectural components to portable hospital wards. Our projects make companies more sustainable, transforming industrial and household waste into useful products.
If your organization would like to give upcycling a try, contact us to discuss your needs and how we can help you meet them in a more sustainable way.