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July 23, 2012

The State of Upcycling and Maharam thus far-Joseph Escobar, City of Providence


Upcycling is a new concept first coined in 1994. This concept is the process of converting waste materials or secondhand products into new products. Upcycling falls under, ‘reuse’ and is the more favored aspect of waste processing by the United State Environmental Protection Agency.

In the past two decades only a few municipalities have begun to invest in “reuse programs.” Waste processing is still largely a private enterprise and outside of Good Will, Salvation Army and yard sales, there are no systems to prevent usable and durable goods from entering the waste stream.

For the past few years, I have worked on a student run upcycling program called 2ndLife. Our work this summer is to develop a model of upcycling for art schools that would also encompasse the local community.

Meetings thus far:

6/14 Meeting with RISD facilities (Providence, RI)

At this meeting was Joe Melo (Custodial and Grounds Supervisor) and Alan Cantara (Director of the Office of Environmental Health and Safety). From this meeting, I learned about the waste flow within RISD and the steps involved from moving a piece of trash from a student’s dormitory to pick-up by a third party.

6/26 Trip to the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Cooperation (Johnson, RI) tour given by Krystal Noiseux (Recycling Program Manager)

At the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Cooperation, the $16.9M system runs recyclables through a series of conveyor belts moving at different angles, speeds,directions and air blaster machines with the aid of human hands are the means in which materials are sorted.

6/29 – 7/2 NYC Trip: Meeting with Emily Rubenstein (Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability) and Benjamin Rose (Program Director of NYC’s Materials Exchange Development Program, under the Sanitation Department)

Cal and Phil (two other 2ndLife members) joined me on the trip to NYC. In the meeting with Emily and Ben, we had an hour long conversation about the considerations for an upcycling program in NYC where transportantion and space are two of the greater issues in moving materials around the city.The city has a mandate of 75% waste diversion by 2030, so ,”we have begun to explore reuse” Emily tells us. Both Emily and Ben had provided great advice on what kinds of numbers and information that municipalities would be interested in.

Meeting with Alex Williams from Rich, Brilliant Willing (RBW)

Inside the Rich Brilliant Willing studio in Manhattan, Alex, Cal, Phil and I sat around a draft of our website, and talking about our image, inventory and reviewed our deliverables for Maharam.

Both Alex from RBW and Ben from the Dept. of Sanitation recommended that we pick one item and track its flow through the 2ndlife program of upcycling. We just weighed all of our paper pada, ranging from newsprint to bristol, for a total of 306 pads weighing 433 lbs. and apx. $1,100 in value. The pads were donated by students during the end of dorm move-0ut this past May.

7/12 Massachusetts College of Art and Design: Meeting with Amelia and Joseph(Puppy), the students who run ReStore (Massachusetts College of Art and Design) (Boston, MA)

I met Amelia and Puppy at the ReStore location at the center of the MassArt campus. For an hour we talked about our respective organizations and how we operated as well as the potential we see in having our organizations better integrated within the local community. “If you can do it at a public school, you can do it anywhere.” Puppy says as we look though a few pages of the draft of the ,”how to” manual.

7/16 Phone chat with Susan Casico, Recycling Director, Public Works Department / Boston (From my apartment)
A phone conversation centered around waste management and processing with in Boston.

I will continue to work with the team and meet with Sustainability Directors from major US cities, such as Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and reach out to other art schools, in order to create a more comprehensive model of upcycling. For pictures and other updates, check out We will have the first drafts of our deliverables up by the end of the week.

Read more from RISD Maharam Fellows
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