The Best Guests Come Bearing Gifts: Trash (Sorry, "Upcycling")

by Spencer Bronson · August 17, 2011

The New York Times recently  reported on a company called "TerraCycle," which apparently exists solely to make cool stuff out of trash.  They arent't the only ones.  The upcylcing trend is back.

Though the term was apparently coined in the '90s as the opposite of "downcycling" (breaking down trash and reconstituting it into things like paper and bottles that people, you know, actually use), it seems like these goods are really taking off these days. To the left is a clock made out of pregnancy tests someone has likely peed on.

Here are some upcycled goods you can get for your friends if you want to come across as environmentally conscious (or something), just don't be surprised if these end up in landfills themselves.

Candy wrapper spice rack

For the ultimate in useless home clutter, consider this colorful spice rack, which probably won't match anything you own unless you contracted someone like TerraCycle to decorate your place. This is really more of a socially conscious buy than an environmentally conscious one, considering that proceeds go to "Funds 28 bowls of food" and you're supporting the tiny company in India that makes these. And at less than $20, this is probably the cheapest upcycled item you're gonna find—a lot of companies seem to think it's okay to charge luxurious prices for the novelty.

Pull tab handbag

If you like the look of chain mail but don't care to dress like you're waging war for Charlemagne, Ecoist's collection of pull tab products might be right up your alley. Take, for example, their Leda handbag, funky enough to tote around town yet metallic enough to defend yourself in a Viking raid. (Disclaimer: You probably shouldn't try to use this as a shield, against sword attacks or anything else.) The interior is lined with fabric, so you don't have to worry about slicing up your hand every time you reach into this thing, and Ecoist says it's handmade by a Brazilian women's cooperative. $125 with free shipping.

Bernie Madoff iPad case

Does it count as upcycling if the original product wasn't really trash to begin with? Honestly I'd rather own a pair of Bernie Madoff's pants than an iPad case made out of them (they'd last longer too, considering that Apple doesn't redesign your legs every year) but that doesn't stop Garment District-based "rescued fabric" iPad case designer Frederick James from offering "The Bernie Madoff Collection," made from authentic Ponzi schemer pants acquired at a police auction. Pictured here is the "Ralph Lauren Polo Blue Khaki Pants" model, which will set you back $350. Needless to say, this collection is very much limited edition (a line made from his sweaters has already sold out), and each piece is completely one-of-a-kind. Gothamist reports that the fabric was all thoroughly cleaned before these were made, in case you were worried about getting a convicted felon's ass all over your electronics.

Upcycled candelabra

In case you still had any doubts that "upcycling" is really more of a buzzword people use to try and push old shit for lots of money, just search "upcycled" on Etsy and see what's for sale. Take, for example, this candelabra, which "has been given new life with brick red paint and distressed for added vintage charm." Get that? The seller actually took time to make it look older than it is, which wouldn't be that weird in this day and age if it wasn't already being sold as some kind of repurposed treasure. The seller describes this piece as "counrty chic" (sic), but it "Fit's into many decorating styles" (also sic). It's about $40 on Etsy plus $12 shipping, or less than $10 at your local flea market.

Cashmere upcycled sweater dress

Perfect for your Bride of Frankenstein Halloween costume is this horrifying mélange, also from Etsy. The Brighton, England-based seller deserves some props for making this "subtle but sexy" (but actually neither of these) piece by hand, though I'm not 100% sure it counts as "upcycling" if you turn clothes into more clothes. Joking aside, this is actually probably as insanely warm and comfortable as you'd expect worn cashmere to be, if you happen to be in the market for a more form-fitting and out-there replacement for your Slanket.