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Upcycling materials that have been discarded or are surplus to requirements, rather than simply recycling them, adds value to everyday items such as furniture, fashion, decorative items and sometimes even entire homes.

 Adam Hills upcycled homes

Adam Hills was an upcycler before the term was even coined. He started his furniture design business in London in 1993, long before the “used look” interior design trend became popular in homes. The architect and his wife used materials from empty, derelict houses to produce beautiful furniture for their own home.

Visitors were impressed, which soon led to the opening of Retrouvius – a store for interior decoration, furniture and home accessories. Almost everything in the store – from lampshades, windows, doors and timber to paints and fabrics –is made from old materials. Hills now gets interior decoration assignments for fashion stores and show homes – often with a budget running into millions

Upcycling cast-offs often leads to curious scenarios. Examples include transforming a tarpaulin that up till recently was touring Europe on a truck into a shoulder bag for fashionconscious students, a trendy downtown café using an old discarded CRT television as an aquarium and a resourceful architect making stylish lampshades from old test tubes.

Upcycling is the term used when creative ideas and craftsmanship give discarded products a new lease on life, for example as a chic accessory or elegant piece of furniture. This mostly takes place at cottage industry level, though. There have been no large-scale upcycling projects for disposable products so far, but a number of possibilities do exist.

Environmental protection organizations estimate that global paper production in 2015 amounted to some 440 million metric tons. Most of this is recycled and the quality normally suffers.

Paper composite panels are the exception. This high-grade surface material is produced from waste paper and phenolic resin using thermal recycling (waste-to-energy) technology.

The extremely durable and stable paper composite is used to make items such as kitchen work surfaces, skateboard ramps and guitar necks – in all kinds of colors...

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