U-Tec: upcycling to engage communities

Project Aim:

To enable individuals and communities to benefit from the use of ‘post consumer resources’ in innovative ways for the mutual benefit of themselves and the environment.

Researchers at Newcastle University are exploring the potential of design-led upcycling, where products are engineered at the production stage to have a range of ‘potential’ uses during their lifetime. However, the concept of upcycling is recognised as only successful if the general public not only recognise these new potentials in waste material, but are also motivated to do something with them too.  So for example, plastic bottles, cartons, and other packaging, once regarded as worthless waste, may become more valuable if people identify these as components with a range of creative possibilities.  One exciting potential is for people to take ownership of these new materials and use them in innovative ways, to create new products, and hence develop for themselves new entrepreneurial opportunities.  If for example, the value of such materials increases, is there likely to be a range of new ‘grass-root’ types of business opportunities created?

What is not currently known, is the willingness of people to own a handbag made from materials once regarded as rubbish or waste, or live in a building insulated with material of a similar origin.  How, and why would people of very different social, economic and cultural backgrounds choose to engage with upcycled products, if at all?  To gauge a range of possible perceptions around notions of waste, value and utility, an interdisciplinary team of academics and students from Newcastle University are constructing U-Café made from materials described as rubbish or waste.