Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Upcycling Scraps - The Answer to Production Waste?

For the underpaid twenty-something, the idea that furniture could be an industry as frequently changing and responsive as high fashion seems novel. But that is exactly how Anupol Yooyuen, design director of a furniture upholstery company describes the industry.

"'The furniture upholstery industry relies on fashion trends that are always changing. It's always out with the old and in with the new.' Anupol said 'Last year's trends of fabric utilisation in our business generated stockpiles of materials that occupy office space and need maintenance.'" [1]

And so enters the balancing act between responsiveness and efficiency, two key drivers in the daily and long term decisions that businesses make in their supply chain management strategies. As Anupol went on to describe, the furniture upholsterer has adopted an innovative response to the high volume of unused material, which took valuable inventory space. The answer is "upcycling" - "taking an item no longer of use, or waste material, and turning them into new products of better quality." Working with designers and environmental scientists, Anupol is turning scraps into upscale products like these shown below. [2]

The story of this company's creation of a secondary product line to utilize their scraps and reduce inventory space needs made me wonder how many others are engaging in "upcycling".

As it happens, Anupol was not alone. Tyler McNaney for example, designed a robot that transforms plastic scraps into 3D printer filament. Upcycling, linked to 'Cradle to Cradle' production methods is everywhere from Pintrest to corporate and industrial production - and it's becoming more popular all the time. [3] [4]

Is upcycling in the style of Anupol's upholstery-scraps-to-art a viable solution to excess inventory and waste? Or does the creative design and investment required to improve scraps make it too costly to serve as a money saving scheme?

In the end, as I contemplate my own hodge podge of thrifty furnishings, I'm left to wonder just who is buying up high priced "upcycled" furniture art?

[1] http://www.bangkokpost.com/lifestyle/family/331954/upcycling-trash
[2] ibid
[3] http://techcrunch.com/2013/01/13/the-upcycling-filabot-turns-regular-plastic-scrap-into-3d-printer-filament/
[4] http://downtoearth.danone.com/2012/11/09/can-upcycling-change-the-industry/ 

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