Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Upcycling centre

A system to turn your junk into useful stuff
  [vote for,

In many developed countries recycling of various staple items is now common. For example, I can recycle paper, metal cans, glass bottles and some plastic containers, as well as garden waste.

However, the typical human in such countries also generates waste of a number of other items which are not recycled. Many things are not worth isolating and recovering since they are produced only in small amounts, mixed in with a great amount of other stuff. Moreover, I suspect that much of what is currently recycled is more to meet quotas than to recover value.

I propose a system in which the interested could sort their own output, and convert or trade it into things valuable to them. There are several interested groups:

1) Consumer households. These produce a large variety of waste items at a small amount each, over time.
Motivations vary, but include interests in reducing harm to the environment, in spending time to save or earn money, and in creative processes.

2) Businesses. These will often generate waste products of which they wish to dispose, in larger amounts.
For example, a hairdresser presumably discards several kilos of human hair per week to landfill. There may be little or no cost to this, but there's no gain either.
Businesses may also have untapped opportunities due to inability to source reusable material.

3) Local government. They wish to reduce costs and meet centrally-imposed targets.

I propose the 'upcycling centre' as a means to unite these groups.
There are several parts to this scheme:

Businesses can donate or trade bulk stuff they want to get rid of, or have a use for. - This would make for a fairly uninteresting clearing house, were it not for the other part.

Normal people can take on one or more of several roles:
1) They can separate the stuff they cannot otherwise recycle, or which is particularly in demand at the upcycling centre. A range of boxes could be supplied for this as necessary. This stuff gets delivered to the centre either by doorstop pickup or drop-off, depending on their interest. Businesses can do this too.
2) They can upcycle their stuff, using dedicated tools and specialists at the centre. Then, depending on what it is, they can take that stuff away and use it themselves, or it can be bought from them and sold.

A couple of use-cases:

1) Small-scale collection of a specific item.
A business could reuse something instead of a virgin resource, but it needs specific collection as it is a small percentage of post-consumer waste. For example, egg-shells are almost pure calcium carbonate. They could be used in eg. a component of concrete instead of chalk or limestone.
Supplying such materials would yield a (small) cash reward which could be used to pay for some specialist upcycling help.

2) Upcycling of a specific item
With processing, something which would ordinarily be thrown away may be turned into something useful. However, this may need specialist skill, and in some cases, may only be of interest to the original owner.
For example: toothbrushes. With a special jig, perhaps some other recycled plastic, and the right knowledge, a number of used toothbrushes could be efficiently converted into a hand-brush. Perfectly hygenic (with a bleaching step), of sentimental interest to the family, saving money and part of a fun day out.

The possibilities of bringing together interested consumers, businesses and inventive staff could I suggest be quite large. The key point for this to be a success is that everybody must benefit : each must save or earn money, or get stuff that they want.

Loris, Mar 21 2011

TerraCycle http://www.terracycle.net/
A bit like this company, but with local resource accquisition, user participation and payment to individuals [Loris, Mar 21 2011]




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