Upcycling Meeting Report
We had an excellent meeting at the Brink on Wednesday 12th April (making an emergency switch from the QMH where there was no water). Many thanks to the Brink, their staff and the other users !
Introduction (expanded since the meeting)
Humans and their industries have been working away making more stuff, so that everyone can have what they want. This has led to economic growth, but also to exploitation - of the planet, and of workers. The growth process has now become overheated, to say the least, so that the planet is warming, and we are also running out of key resources like oil and gas, where the Law of Supply and Demand will inexorably lead to major price rises and/or shortages. Much of the growth has also had planned obsolescence built in – washing machines that JUST reach the end of their warranty period before needing major repairs or replacement.
In more personal terms, it was absolutely reasonable for me to get an electric drill 20 years ago, when I bought a house, but, it isn’t reasonable for 90% of men over 25 to own their own electric drill, especially when they are designed for 1000 hours of use, but the average person drills 12 holes a year, which is about 2 minutes usage per year.
Growth has led to things being cheap, so we have been wasteful – replacing our kitchens and bathrooms every 6 years rather than repairing them, so that we generate huge piles of waste. Again, this is reasonable enough when you look at what each person or family creates, but when you see a rubbish tip, and the stream of vehicles bringing more waste, then it is unacceptable, and landfill taxes make it uneconomic too.
We created our meeting to look at some of the ways we might improve things, particularly the Library of Things and a Repair Café, but first we heard some excellent presentations form local organisations who specialise in recycling and Upcycling on a large scale and also some local makers.
Total Re-use, Skelmersdale http://www.totalreuse.co.uk/ Martin Gamester, their founder spoke to us about their work. They specialize in re-finishing, recreating and improving furniture (examples are tables at Leaf on Bold St and at the Students Guild). However, they also have a paint recycling service (20% of paint is unused, on average), they take mattresses and sofas apart to recycle the constituents, and gather “useful stuff” on an industrial scale. They have a furnace for re-fusing glass which they will develop soon, and they have sponsored 5 or 6 Shed Clubs in Mid and West Lancashire, including one in Bootle
Emmaus Project, Seaforth https://www.emmaus.org.uk/merseyside They do house clearances and upgrade the furniture to sell it from their charity superstore on Sandy Road, Seaforth. They are unusual in that they are an integrated project, and perhaps it’s fair to say that one of their primary goals is to provide work, training and accommodation for people who were formerly homeless or living in hostels. They are just starting here, and they have a newly built community building for up to 28 people. They also have shops in Old Swan and Bootle at the Waste Recycling Centres. They also have gardens with raised beds and polytunnels.
DoES, Gostins Building, Hanover Street https://doesliverpool.com/ They are Liverpool’s primary high-tech maker centre (though there are now 3 others) They have 3-D printers, laser cutters and vacuum formers, desk hire, and help with Raspberry Pi projects, etc. They have a CNC mill that operates in 3-dimensions, and a machine for knitting hats that they built themselves using 3-D printing of most of the components, using a 100-year old machine design available free on the internet. They also custom-build artificiual limbs for people of all ages. So, they can build new, more suitable adaptations of existing designs, and also do repairs, for example, if you break a plastic part on your vacuum cleaner, they can either make a new part using designs on the internet, or 3-D scan the broken piece and make a new part based on that
(Make it Workshop Southport https://makeitworkshop.wordpress.com/ sent their apologies but weren’t able to come. They have 3 shops in the Cambridge Walks Arcade – cycle rebuilding, up-cycled furniture, and Curiosity Shop which includes re-purposed bakelite telephones and other “classic electronics”)
Freya Levy http://www.freyalevydesigns.com/ brought some of her mosaics and cards to show us
Maya Lorkowska from Damibu http://www.damibu.com/ told us about their “Grow a Group app” that might be very useful for connecting resources and needs
Paul from Sustainable Liverpool http://www.sustainableliverpool.org/ spoke about the empty “derelict” properties he is looking at , which may be suitable for sustainable re-building and as a centre for projects such as these.
There was a lot of information to take in and digest as to what is possible, and eventually we split into 2 group to look at the main ideas for reducing waste and duplication
Library of Things
I wasn’t in this group, so I need to know more about what was said !
There is a huge spectrum of possibilities, from the smallest scale where you have a free shelf or cupboard where people can leave things they no longer want, and anyone can take it away – people need practice at doing things like this
At the other extreme, there are recycling superstores, where “economies of scale” might mean it could get more publicity, and attract more users, and so be more economic and attract artists and other creative workers. This would need more funding to get started
Alternatively, we could try to support the existing tool sheds and enterprises to extend their operations into this area.
Membership terms, and costs of the service would also need to be clarified.
Chris from DoES could do many electrical repairs, Peter might repair machinery, I could repair or rebuild computers. In each case, there are 2 main issues:-
- Safety and Insurance – you can do a repair but the equipment must then be PAT tested before use (Portable Appliance Testing) http://www.hse.gov.uk/electricity/faq-portable-appliance-testing.htm and that requires a certificated person to carry out the tests, otherwise you may be liable for claims against you. We may be able to get sponsorship or a bulk deal on training for this accreditation.
- To do repairs, you realistically need a stack of working spares and parts readily to hand – e.g. I would need 20 old computers to have a reasonable chance of cannibalising them to get the parts I’d need, and Chris would need his stocks of resistors, capacitors, etc.
We also spoke about some of the main challenges of computers and phones – all electronic equipment eventually breaks and dies, however, you shouldn’t lose all your files. We could set up a cloud backup system for a wholesale service to encourage people to do this properly.
We didn’t have a group for this, but many of the things produced now are mediocre but cheap – clothes, furniture. These can easily be upcycled or improved with a bit of effort.
The Way Forward
The is a lot to digest ……. But, we can move forward in 2 main ways.
- Go and visit the main existing services, talk to them more, and see if we can help them to develop more. I am putting together a timetable to go and visit Seaforth, Southport, Skelmersdale and DoES, and hope to have this finalised soon. The visits will mostly be Tuesday afternoons. After the last visit, to DoES, we could use their meeting room to discuss how to go forward further.
- The publicise these ideas more – find someone in Liverpool with a passion for recycling house paint (for example) who would like to try and get funding to start a project.
- There is a whole charity shop clothes and furniture sector – Bulky Bob’s, the Shaw Trust, YMCA, etc. Perhaps we need to research this too ?!
- However, there are places like Bootle and Birkenhead with lots of vacant shop, where it would be relatively easy to get a premises. Unfortunately most of our members live where the shops are expensive to rent !