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 “Upcycling,” a new buzzword on the green-living scene, may be unfamiliar to some readers. It is “the practice of taking something that is disposable and transforming it into something of greater use and value,” according to The term was coined in the 2002 non-fiction book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.

Another, more expansive, explanation comes from “Everyone can upcycle, which is part of the appeal, and people can participate at whatever level they feel comfortable with, from delving through Dumpsters to salvage useful things to re-using containers rather than tossing them or throwing them out. Under the upcycling philosophy, everything has a potential use or value, although it might take some creative thinking to figure out what that use is.

“Plastic, glass and aluminum products coded with the number one may be remade into something of equal or greater value. This type of recycling is known as upcycling, and represents the forward compatibility of recycled components. Materials available for downcycling, such as water, juice, and milk bottles, are coded with the number two.”

Shoppers may head over to Main Street for examples of upcycled products for home or personal use. At Ten Thousand Villages (719 Main St.) shoppers can buy jewelry, picture frames, vases and more repurposed from newspapers and magazines. Other items include gourd boxes; bike chain mirrors, picture frames and bracelets; kancu leaf journals and picture frames; glass mosaic candleholders and much more.

An added benefit to shopping at Ten Thousand Villages is that the store is a fair-trade retailer. It creates opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their wares to the marketplace and by establishing long-term fair-trading relationships.

Defy Bags, which upcycles truck tarps, banner signs, military canvas, bicycle inner tubes and other materials into messenger and tote bags, had its roots as an Evanston home-based business. Having outgrown his “in-my-garage startup space,” Chris Tag now has studio space in a Ravenswood warehouse. Shop for Defy Bags at Scout (5221 N. Clark St., Chicago) or visit the online store at

For those interested in trying DIY upcycling, a few fall classes at the Evanston Art Center in glass and mosaic and mixed-media jewelry will focus on using found objects to create art works, says Director of Education Judy Fenton (

Budding upcyclers can learn how to reuse and repurpose household items at the Ecology Center class “Creative Ecology.” Children aged 7 and up (accompanied by an adult) will craft a tote bag or backpack and a creative notebook. For details, contact the Evanston Ecology Center at 847-448-8256.

Those who want to learn more about upcycling can visit these two websites:, a marketplace offering handmade and vintage goods, and the
supplies for making those goods and, a site devoted to project ideas, cool products and feature stories.

Readers are encouraged to share their upcycling projects and the names and locations of stores at which they have purchased upcycled items.

Contact Eco Gal at or read her blog: http://askecogal.