At our second UpShop Event, you could have exchanged your coffee nut for a flat white, seen some more of the materials stored in the workshop – like hebel blocks and jarrah timber, innerpsring mattresses and volvo pallets – that you could incorporate into your creative projects (by yourself or with our assistance). And there was the usual array of strange things and curious objects rescued from landfill and either restored or ready to be upcycled.
At each UpShop event, something different is in the air – this time, we were lucky to have Cath who runs Wozwaste along as a participant. We met Cath at the Green Market, Sustainable Living Festival just the weekend before and, it reveals a lot about her creative and collaborative spirit that with only a week’s notice, she chose to come along and join us.
Cath’s creative work added a different dimension to the conversation about upcyclying. Cath works with a variety of materials that are rescued from landfill – soda bottles, toothbrushes, empty toothpaste tubes, and the inner tubes from tyres. And from what was waste emerges many beautiful and useful products: inner tubes, for instance, become bags, wristbands, backpacks, belts, guitar straps, earrings, satchels…
You can see and purchase all of the handmade items on the wozwaste website but these images can’t convey what it felt like to handle them. In the flesh, so to speak, we could appreciate the stitching on each wallet and the weight of the butyl rubber (yes that’s what inner tyres are made from). Tactile and aesthetic qualities suggested that each item was durable, yet light; constructed from the same material and yet also keeping the traces of the individual who made them in every stitch.
The wristbands are fascinating. There are different designs that Cath has created for them and each shape is cut into the rubber using a hammer and a “plong”. Because they are handmade, each is special. If you looked closely, you could see the different textures and markings of the particular inner tyre that was sourced for the wristband.
Touching all this rubber made some of us even more curious about the material itself. Tunnel into Google and, whilst you will return with slightly glazed eyes from all the chemistry speak, you will learn that butyl rubber is damn interesting – and its not just restricted to the manufacture of tyres. Chewing gum is made from “polyisobutylene: that’s what makes it chewy and why it sticks to everything including the street and thus is an issue itself for waste disposal (despite efforts to market a more biodegradable version since Revolymer patented Rev7 in 2010).
Most of us already know that tyres make up a huge component of landfill. Figures are always staggering – organisations like TyreStewarship claim that 51 million “end of life” tyres (such a strange term) reach landfill each year in Australia. And you can’t help remember it when black smoke appears on the horizon or on your social media feeds signalling fires caused by the stockpiling of tyres – like what happened at Maygar Bvd, Broadmeadows on January 11th, 2016.
The scale of such waste can seem overwhelming.
Butyl rubber is used in the seals in gas masks and protective garments because it is the most impervious to chemical warfare agents and decontamination materials. These facts can be as alarming as apocalyptic plumes from tyre stacks on fire. Imagine chemical warfare and military personnel sweating inside a breathing apparatus with a full-body suit of cross-linked butyl rubber (or not as sweaty if they are wearing suits improved by blending butyl rubber with liquid crystals that could be organized to form hydrophilic, 1.2-nanometer-wide pores (for a taste of the chemistry speak). And butyl rubber had a part to play in getting to the Moon. The NASA Apollo-era SCAPE suit Toxic Fuel Handler’s coveralls (SCAPE)was actually a set of butyl-rubber coveralls with helmet, no gloves or boots, and was worn those who transferred the dangerously volatile and corrosive propellant fuel to and from rockets at the Kennedy Space Center during the Apollo era.
Tyres are already being upcycled, that is, if you see upcycling in the same way as the writer on Intercon proposes: as a “process that can be repeated in perpetuity of returning materials back to a pliable, usable form without degradation to their latent value—moving resources back up the supply chain”. Rubber granulate and crumb is traditionally produced by a mechanical process of shredding or grinding, with new processes like cryogenic processing where the tires are ground at temperatures minus 80 degrees Celsius.
This granulated material is then manufactured into other products such as shoe soles and brake pads, and is used to resurface roads. This process of upcycling at the level of manufacturing does reduce energy consumption and remove the material from the waste stream. But doesn’t it just remove the problem from the conversation? When you are driving along a road resurfaced with rubber crumb, do you think “This used to be tyres” or “what actually happens to my tyres when they wear out and I replace them with new ones”?
When products headed for landfill are creatively upcycled, the “end of life” object is not broken down and manufactured into something else so that, conveniently, it just disappears. Take for example, our lovely barista, Elena who purchased a satchel, earrings, a wallet and a wristband made by wozwaste. Adorned with what was once waste, she models a means to keep the problem of waste visible and keep question about our responsibility for what we purchase and thus own circulating within our everyday lives.
Seeing, touching and wearing the beautiful upcycled items created by Cath provoked unexpected conversations and connections – in a similar way to how sharing the process of refurbishing a hand tool led to some thoughts on what a tool actually is and whether restoring it is a form of upcycling.
Having Wozwaste at UpShop was a learning experience about waste as a social and economic phenomenon for all of us, both in Australia and in Indonesia where Cath sources her materials. On the wozwaste website, Cath talks about the ethos of her enterprise and we quote from her: “that it is possible to run a business with integrity, that has a positive effect on all those involved in it (craftspeople thru to consumer) including this amazing planet earth that we all share”. Cath not only designs products that upcycle waste and works with others to do so, she also travels around Australia to festivals so that what was once waste is always connected to social contexts and our lives. Many who have seen and will see these wonderful things will likely come away feeling like we did at our last event: curious, overwhelmed, informed and, potentially, a model for rethinking the place of waste within our everyday lives.