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Make do and mend with Simply Upcycling

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By Jacqueline Grima

In today’s climate of tightened belts and austerity measures, more and more people are looking for new ways of making ends meet. And, whether it be sanding down second-hand furniture, finding a new outfit at a ‘pop-swap’ event or simply turning some leftovers into a delicious meal, ‘upcycling’ is a great way of saving a few pounds as well as having a very positive impact on the environment.

Alex Borg Costanzi and Luke Callander have taken the ‘make-do-and-mend’ philosophy to a new level, recently launching their new business, Simply Upcycling. The project, they tell us, focusses entirely around one ethos: “In waste we see potential.”

Alex, who left his job two years ago to concentrate on upcycling, met Luke when both responded to a call for action put out by Corin Bell of the Real Junk Food project.

I used to be a spoonCorin was looking for help in launching a Real Junk Food branch at Manchester’s creative wellbeing centre, The Wonder Inn, in Shudehill. Her eateries are unique in that their entire philosophy is based on an upcycling principle. All meals served at Real Junk Food restaurants are comprised entirely of food collected from supermarkets that would usually go to waste, with customers asked to pay only what they think the meal is worth.

“I went along imagining that I would be making recycled glasses and salt cellars,” Alex tells us. “When I got there, the place was like a bomb site.”

Alex and Luke set about refurbishing the restaurant entirely with recycled materials, their resources including broken pallets, discarded tyres and glass bottles. “It was like a dream come true,” Luke says, “being given the chance to refurbish a whole restaurant from scratch.”

Much like for Alex, getting involved with upcycling meant a major career change for Luke after he was made redundant from his job as an industrial radiographer. He discovered a passion for woodwork when he became involved with Men in Sheds, an Age UK project that supports older men, encouraging them to continue with and share manual skills. Luke had no doubt that this was what he wanted to do with his life.

“In my work as a radiographer, I spent a lot of time x-raying old car parts and I could see so much potential in them. It was either get another job or move forward with something I was really passionate about.”

Alex and Luke now spend a lot of the time on the hunt for resources, scouring skips and scrapyards as well as building relationships with potential suppliers.

“You don’t get without asking,” Luke explains. “We recently went to a pallet company in Manchester and asked them what they do with their waste pallets. The foreman there very kindly put us in touch with their head office and they are now a great source of free wood for us. It’s all about engaging with the community and building relationships.”

The enthusiasm for what they do is infectious, the impact of waste on the environment an issue that they obviously have strong feelings about.

“Companies might have a pallet that is slightly broken,” says Alex, “and they simply throw it away. The companies pay someone to dispose of their products, but waste can so easily be recycled. So many basic kitchen products can be made from recycled glass bottles.”

Luke is equally as enthusiastic: “In fact, you could create a whole kitchen from recycled materials.”

It’s Alex and Luke’s dream to share their skills with as many people as possible, their current plans including a YouTube channel and a series of workshops in which they will teach the basics of upcycling.

Alex says, “If we can teach people new skills, just simple everyday things, then we can get a lot more people recycling.”

How do the boys see the future of waste recycling?

“We need to stop producing so much stuff,” Alex says determinedly. “Then we can head towards a circular economy.”

When asked if upcycling is a trend or if it is a way of life that is going to last, Luke is adamant.

“It has to last. It’s a necessary change. We can only choose how we act and move forward as individuals and hope that others follow suit.”

For more information visit: simplyupcycled.org & realjunkfoodmanchester.co.uk. You can follow Simply Upcycled on Twitter @simplyupcycled

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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