I love tents and I love responding to situations where I see a possible fix to some aspect of it. So when hearing about the refugee crisis I put together the knowledge of the tremendous amount of vinyl waste from outdoor advertising with simple shelter designs. This idea would divert “free” material from the landfill upcycle it into tents and ship it to people that need them. This is a simple design and one that I hope gets people thinking about what is going to the landfill that could be helpful. There are millions or displaced people now and possibly more to come. I'd love for everyone to have an apartment, but continuing to think about fast and resilient shelter design is important. Maybe even ones that integrate water collection and heat from the sun.
Like food waste, we have a distribution problem and an interaction or behavioral problem (wastefulness) to attend to. One aspect of a perspective issue, especially within the refugee communities, is the idea of temporary. Often these temporary situations become permanent. Is it possible to plan for that reality? Could the temporary or disaster relief supplies be designed to become components of more permanent structures?
Take the simple designs on Tentility.com for the refugee scenarios. The tents are essentially billboards or vinyl sheeting that could become a vapor barrier for a more permanent structure. The PVC tubes that hold the tent together could be connected to become pipes for moving water. These are simple examples that I hope inspire people to see that in reality the climate is changing ecologically, politically, and socially. In my opinion, we need to design for resilience and possibilities of permanent nomadism, disaster communities becoming permanent, and design for a restructuring of what we typically believe to be normal. This might be a new level of self-reliance in an arrangement that creates the social and psychological healing and resilience needed to survive and care for each other, and the land base that will have to support us all.
Upcycling is gaining popularity, especially for young millennial women. I'm not a millennial, but I have worked with upsizing artisans and artists for 7 years now and have watched the trend develop here in Portland, OR. What I have noticed is that this isn't a new concept, my grandmother who suffered through the depression reused, repaired and remade everything, nothing was wasted. Incidentally, the materials she had to work with 60 years ago were of a higher quality. The rubber gloves she cut up and used as rubber bands, they are probably still elastic. I bring this up because being aware of unintended consequences is part of my training and I'm noticing a trap door and that is manufacturers using upcycling as an excuse for making low-quality products. Beware that buying poor quality goods, that won't last and that require energy to make, or even remake in this case and fall apart is not helping the planet of the circular economy. Upcycling as an ethos is about creative reuse that adds value and quality and says, "I'm not going to waste the energy that was put into this material, I'm going to remake it into something else that is useful and will last". Upcycling the trend might be making tennis shoes from plastic waste, but are those tennis shoes going to last or end up as waste faster than if another renewable resource was chosen.
Is it upcycling for energy conservation and supporting artisans or is it crappy quality but upcycling trendy? I'm aware of the benefits of the popularity of upcycling especially for the artists I work with and a few of my own designs. I want to be clear that as larger companies jump on board choose to support the ones that have an end of use programs that recycle or reuse the materials and check out the longevity of the product they are creating. If it lasts half as long please complain to them. Seeing ecological sensibilities coopted for selling trends is an opportunity to hold companies accountable for their perceived ethics. The companies making quality items that will last are as important to support as those exploring upcycling. Let your inner depression surviving grandmother help you make the best decision and call out green washers selling poor design, quality, and false fronts under the guise of ecologically conscious. They are asking to actually be who they proport to be.
Artist Emily J. Pratt