Introducing the Uppie
An Uppie is a person who has taken the decision to live a less wasteful life in the hope of ensuring a brighter future for the generations who have yet to set foot on our beautiful blue-green planet. An Uppie is different from most self-proclaimed ‘greens’ in that they do not believe t hat we can buy our way out of the mess we’re in. Eco-consumerism alone cannot reduce C02 and other greenhouse gas emissions to an acceptable degree; in order to truly reduce our impact on the planet we must address the innately wasteful nature of modern living.
The Uppie reduces their environmental impact by becoming a dedicated ‘upcycler’ – hence the name ‘Uppie’. Upcycling is a process conceived by German chemist Micheal Braungart and architect William McDonough whereby end-of-use, disposable materials (especially items that are usually considered ‘waste’) are transformed into objects that have a greater use and/or value. Braungart and McDonough argue that the present industrial system – one which currently “takes, makes and wastes” – can become more sustainable through a system of “lifecycle development”. But Uppies aren’t prepared to wait around for business and industry to finally get their act together; instead we choose to turn the existing “take-make-waste” principle on its head by taking their waste and making something new from it, thereby retro-fitting a ”lifecycle development” policy to any old junk we can find.
The Uppie ‘upcycles’ everything that they possibly can in each and every aspect of their daily life. They live by Henry David Thoreau’s maxim “Never buy what you can make.” – indeed Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ could be considered a primer for Uppie living.
The Uppie is not anti-consumer or anti-technology, rather we seek to take back control of our lives by utilising (and openly sharing) technological, engineering and artistic skills to avoid blind consumerism; this has a positive effect on our personal health, the health of the planet, and the health of our bank balances (for those of us who still bother with banks). In fact the thrifty, creative Uppie can be seen as the antithesis to the greedy, ultra-consumerist Yuppie; ironically the Uppie is in a position to be financially more secure than the Yuppie – even if we use traditional economic yardsticks (‘wealth’ in Uppie terms is a whole new board game). Also with the greatest respect to Thoreau we do we wish to live outside of conventional society (even if it were still possible to do so in the GPS age); you can become an Uppie without having to go through any major physical or emotional upheaval.
The Uppie philosophy is that there is no such thing as waste, only wasted opportunities. A large percentage of our waste is needless; created by unnecessary packaging or the whims of fashion. Packaging waste is perhaps the easiest to deal with; leave excess food packaging at the till when you do your shopping and avoid anything that is blatantly over-packaged (this is hardest to do with kids toys – but then again they usually like the boxes better than the toys themselves and cardboard can be like gold-dust to an Uppie). Fashion is a subject we’ll approach later; needless to say Uppies are far too flamboyant to allow themselves to be tied to other people’s tastes.
The aforementioned “take-make-waste” ethos shows a distinct lack of regard for the imagination; which is a shame when you consider how central creativity is to the human condition. Indeed, as Erich Fromm observed, we are creatures that evolved to become creators. You only have to watch kids at play to see how innately creative they are; which is why you spend a fortune on the latest ‘must-have’ toys at Christmas only to have them play with the boxes they were (over)packed in – if you don’t believe that kids are born artists then maybe you’re prepared to give a child a crayon and let them loose on your wallpaper. 😉
Unfortunately modern consumer capitalism would rather breed consumers than creators and the creative urge is all too often suppressed; which, in turn, leads to widespread neurosis and ennui. When the creative urge is smothered it leaves a psychological void that demands to be filled; this is good news for the money men because we tend to try and rid ourselves of that empty feeling by going shopping, or by going to the movies, or by binge drinking, or by watching TV, or by playing computer games – Welcome to Generation X-Box.
When you think about it, most modern activities aren’t very ‘active’ at all, they’re more like “passivities”. Small wonder that our environmentally friendly actions are by and large equally as passive; we fill our recycling bin and send it away so that somebody else can turn it into something green for us to consume just so we can feel better about our passive consumerism. We become emotionally more stable (and less likely to over-consume) when we find an outlet for our innate creativity, so we would do well to concentrate on ways to be creative with waste; thus the Uppie movement is as much a creative movement as it is a green one.
Creativity is best illustrated through practice rather than abstract philosophy, so in Part 2 we will look at the practical, everyday life of the Uppie…