Berkana Blog

Working Locally to Support Upcycling as a System of Influence

by Margaret Wheatley on September 16, 2011

This fall will mark the five-year anniversary of the first time I upcycled my own trash. With the help of friends from SoMoHo (Soweto Mountain of Hope) in South Africa, I transformed a couple soda cans into a pair of earrings, a necklace and a bracelet. Since then I’ve become increasingly passionate about the practice and the mindset behind upcycling (making things that are more useful, beautiful or durable from what was previously considered garbage).U.S. citizens generate around 251 million tons of waste a year – 4.6 pounds per person per day. I’m convinced that if we begin to recognize waste as the most abundant resource on our planet, we’ll not only contribute to “solving” what is currently one of our most pressing global dilemmas, we’ll also become more creative, both individually and collectively. I’m also convinced that creative thinking is absolutely essential to develop during times of increasing complexity and uncertainty.

Though the hands-on piece is essential, my passion for upcycling has extended beyond being just a lone practitioner. In 2008, The Berkana Institute launched a virtual Upcycling Portal for people to share ideas, resources, inspirations, as well as to spread the word to broader audiences. Following the launch of the portal, Berkana began seeing more and more people getting excited about using waste as a resource, and making the things they need rather than immediately going to buy them. We also recognized how important it is to begin creating the conditions for this movement to spread. Over time, the work of illuminating the practice of upcycling has become one of my life’s callings. This means connecting those who are already practicing upcycling in order to help inspire and motivate people to continue in their efforts. Until recently I’ve done this through the Upcycling Portal, first through the Berkana Exchange network, then through the engagement of practitioners in North America, Europe and Australia (like Haute Trash, Little Shiva and The Visible Trash SocietyRuby Re-Usable and Lady Smaggle).

In 2010 my focus shifted as I began connecting upcyclers and the general public by participating in local events where I live in Oaxaca, Mexico. My latest dream is the creation of a physical space–a collaborative workshop–for the elaboration of upcycled products in which practitioners can share knowledge, skills, tools and materials. We’ll host courses and workshops, and connect communities, schools and other organizations with upcyclers who want to share their skills. The other purpose of the space will be to spread the concept, practices and mindset related to upcycling to more and more people, in order to become a learning center for innovation related to the creative re-use of waste.

I believe that starting here, with local practitioners is the way to develop a project that is practical, grounded, serves a real need and has the possibility of spreading trans-locally to other cities, states, regions and countries.

As we lay the foundation for the Taller Colaborativo de Sobreciclaje (Collective Upcycling Workshop) we’re grateful to have the support of the Hub Oaxaca as an incubation space, as well as the ongoing support of Deborah Frieze and a community of local practitioners excited about the idea. The first simple step is calling and hosting small group conversations about the idea while engaging in upcycling projects together. Step-by-step, using a co-creative process, we’re hoping to open the doors of the workshop by Spring 2012.  Stay tuned for updates here on the Berkana Blog. We’d love to hear your thoughts or questions! Please share in the comment field below.

Aerin Dunford is is an artist, upcycler, urban farmer and yoga instructor with a passion for connecting people and creating the conditions for authentic collaboration and participative leadership. Contact Aerin at

Comments (1)

  1. Joy Smith on October 20, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Keep up the good work with the upcycling! Some of your readers might be interested in a few conservation tips I have compiled as follows….Energy Conservation