Upcycling: Re-imagining Our Waste


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.

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