Circular Economy: Upcycling

We’re back to talk more about a circular economy and how we as regular people can participate. We do want to note that we are not economists nor are we experts in the theory of a circular economy. However, a circular economy is mostly a theoretical model for how to move away from a GDP (gross domestic product) based economy that focuses on increasing profits at the expense of the planet, wildlife, and even human health and well being – to an economy that focuses on sustainability through reducing dependence on new materials by repurposing, recycling, and reusing existing materials.

This concept might sound scary because it turns our current economic model on its head, but radical ideas like this are what we need to support a global population of over 8 billion people for the long term.

So, a circular economy is a very broad concept with the goal of increasing the use of existing materials which will reduce the need for new materials (such as lumber, minerals, etc.). Simply put, any time you are reusing or repurposing something, rather than buying new, you are participating in a circular economy.

One very important way to repurpose is to upcycle items. The definition of this term is “reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.”

This can take many forms and you may already do this at home. Creating new artwork from existing art that you find at the thrift store (think taking those pastel landscapes that were popular in the 20th century and adding to them or painting over them), taking an old flower vase that you were gifted and adding some decoration (like ribbons or shells) to give it new life, and purchasing clothes second hand and tailoring them to your personal style are all examples of ways to upcycle something. Even taking something as simple as an empty toilet paper roll and using it for an arts and crafts project to make something fun is a form of upcycling.

And right now, even though the end of year holidays are over, we’ve got another holiday coming up with lots of opportunities to participate in a circular economy. Valentine’s Day is a holiday for expressing love and affection for those who are most important to you. And while we tend to think of this as a holiday to celebrate our significant others, it doesn’t have to be! Celebrate your friends, your family, or your co-workers – anyone who makes your life a little better. 

However, traditional Valentine’s celebrations often mean purchasing things in order to show that affection, from flowers and chocolate, to cards and fancy meals.

If you want to spend the money and continue participating in a traditional economy, that’s fine. However, if you want to explore ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day or any holiday that better encompasses the theory of circular economy, that’s fine too! 

The main goal is to ask what can you do to celebrate that doesn’t involve purchasing a bunch of brand new stuff?

This doesn’t have to be complicated – you can go see a movie, have a picnic, or enjoy date night at home. Gifts and cards are ok too, but consider homemade gifts or recycled/upcycled cards. Avoid buying cut flowers that come from far off places and will just end up in the trash when they die. If you really feel that you need to buy something, what about purchasing a live plant that will brighten your home for weeks (and even years) to come? Or maybe you can purchase gift cards to restaurants or tickets for experiences that you can enjoy together? The circular economy model does not suggest you can’t spend money. Rather, it suggests that we should be thoughtful about how and where we spend money and that we prioritize spending money on things that don’t rely on new materials.

This is where the concept of upcycling comes into this specific holiday. How much does it mean when someone gives you a card? Is it worth more to you if it’s a Hallmark card picked up from the store or if it’s handmade specifically for you? Whether a card is handmade from scratch or upcycled from old cards, most people would agree that a handmade card shows more care and thought. Someone spent more time creating that card for you, in addition to writing a personalized note.

As a way to support this concept, we at Phillips Wharf are hosting our first event in our new location on this topic. On Saturday, February 11th, we will be hosting an Upcycled Card Making Workshop. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, you can join us to repurpose old gift cards into new cards. Our goal is begin offering programs in our new space and encourage people to have fun with the concept of a circular economy and repurposing items. 

Advanced registration for this workshop is $10 and can be purchased by clicking here.

If the event isn’t up your alley or you can’t make it but would like to support us, you can donate old gift cards, magazines, or other materials!

If you’d like to donate materials, or have questions about the event, please send us an email at

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