Archive | November, 2010

What’s the big picture?

25 Nov

Very quick post – there’s so much good stuff happening here in Delhi it’s been difficult to keep the blog up to date. We’ll be announcing news on where our Commonwealth Games project ended up soon:  it involves a big corporate, a global branding campaign and school kids.

Need another hint?

Watch this video teaser and see if you can work it out…

P.S. the song used in the video is from a contemporary jazz ensemble my sister put me onto a few years ago – the Portico Quartet. I’m a fan.


Where do we go?…

21 Nov

… ‘Oh, where do we go now?…Sweet child o’ mine’. Guns ‘n’ Roses

Yep. That’s right: this song has been running relentlessly through my head while researching and writing this particular post. (Go on, treat yourself to a little late eighties glam-rock posturing. You know you want to).

What’s a global hit from the eighties got to do with upcycling?

It started a few weeks ago, during the Games, while talking to the South Asian correspondents for British and Australian news publications about what we were attempting to do.

I felt under-prepared for the interview – particularly when one of the journalists asked, “A lot of the city’s slums have been cleared out for this event. Why should the Games give you waste, like vinyl banners, when they could be used by poor people to re-build their homes?”

washing behind a wall wrap

Image courtesy AP Photo/Manish Swarup via The Big Picture,

Good. Question.

I fumbled a reply and the interview ended with neither journalist running a story (I know – it’s enough to make any half-savvy PR girl weep).

But it did get me to thinking: when it’s not going to landfill, where does all the waste in Delhi end up?

So, while humming the Gunner’s theme tune, I did a little research on the waste stream we are following from the Games – scrap banners.

We asked the company storing the banners where they thought the scrap was used. They told us they sell it for a small fee to the waste-dealing middlemen of Delhi – the kabadi wallas. Beyond this, they could only guess where the material went.

So I took my trusty little digi cam for a scout around the city to see what I could see:

It’s entirely possible the banners might get used as temporary shelters in one of Delhi’s jugghis (slums)…

Slum settlement on my route to work in East Delhi

Slum settlement on my route to work in East Delhi

…or covering loads on the back of trucks…

Truck canvas cover

Protecting the cargo with the canvas

…or as a colourful roof for a rickshaw…

Rickshaw canvas roof

Pimp my ride with upcycling style

…and, of course, as excellent shades against Delhi’s ferocious Summer heat…

Shade canvas

Look closely - these are actually Games banners converted to shade cloths!

So yeah, there’s a lot of informal repurposing, reusing and upcycling already going on in Delhi.

But with the city’s residents generating around 7,000 tonnes of waste a day, there’s also a lot of rubbish going straight to the dumps or simply being burnt on the streets…

Burning waste in Delhi

Burning waste, including plastics, on a street corner in Lajpat Nagar, Delhi

And it’s not just a problem for Delhi: although the Australian state of Victoria achieves pretty high recycling rates, the amount of waste generated by the 5.5 million population continues to increase each year.

Upcycling is one of many ways to tackle this problem by rethinking our headspace on waste – it’s about seeing value (and beauty) in things we might otherwise discard.

Getting back to that song, what would happen if we thought of our products as our own children?

We’d want to cherish them, protect them and never give them away. And, most of all, we’d do everything we could to stop them ending up here…

products and child

…wouldn’t we?

‘Now and then, when I see [his] face, [he] takes me away to that special place. And if I stared too long, I’d probably break down and cry’…

Style and substance

11 Nov

Today, as promised we welcome Pia Jane Bijkerk to the Conserve Delhi 2010 ideas hub. Her email came winging to us all the way from her houseboat in Amsterdam (thank heavens for the internerd I say)!

Pia is an internationally acclaimed stylist, photographer and author specializing in interiors, still life & food. She continues to use her home as her workshop and her travels as inspiration and delights in stepping off the beaten path to discover the unexpected for her clients and readers. Today she is the author and photographer of Paris: Made by HandAmsterdam: Made by Hand (June 2010), as well as the much-anticipated My Heart Wanders (2011).

Pia’s website:

1. Describe your average day as a stylist?

As a stylist, my average day consists of anything within 4 scenarios – I would either be propping (sourcing props) for an upcoming shoot; or in studio or perhaps on location for a shoot; taking borrowed props back to various boutiques and homes; or researching for my next shoot. All of these scenarios are quite different, but most of the time it means I’m traveling around the city on my bicycle like a mad woman, because being in a hurry is always something a stylist is in.

2. Do you see much waste created in your industry? What materials are likely to be thrown out at the end of a project?

Absolutely, there is a lot of waste and I find it quite frustrating. The worst is certainly food on food shoots – since it’s often necessary to make 2 or 3 versions of a recipe for just one image, there is a lot of waste. Sometimes the food stylist will try to save most of the food and split up the leftovers at the end of the day for each of the production team members to take home, and sometimes we’ll eat some of the food at lunch time. But still, there is waste that I believe can be salvaged. On interior and still life shoots, the waste often comes from carelessness with products – breakages, and over-propping.

3. You’ve written two books showcasing handmade style in Paris and Amsterdam. How do you personally define ‘handmade’ and how does it compare to upcycling?

For me objects ‘made by hand’ these days is about more than creating an object by hand, it also includes the act of restyling, restoring or reinterpreting a found object, giving it new life and new function. This includes upcycling – seeing something in a new light and giving it new use.

4. What are the most critical things you think are needed for your industry to become more sustainable?

In the food styling industry, I’d like to see a food salvage programme created – an organisation that has a schedule of food shoots around the city and goes to each shoot at the end of the day and picks up the excess food – food that is still edible would be taken to shelters, and the rest would be composted and made into soil that local people can purchase, or that is used for city gardens. In the rest of the styling industry, I’d like to see the stylists and production team members themselves take more care with over-consumption – to become aware of the unnecessary waste created on set and minimise it by being more mindful.

(Note: Great suggestions Pia. If you’re ever doing a food shoot in Melbourne you might want to check out Second Bite or Fareshare for their excess food collection services. I wonder if there are other organisations like these in cities around the world?)

5. What kind of upcycled products would you like to see made from Commonwealth Games waste?

I’d like to see Commonwealth Games waste turned into souvenir products that are made locally. I’d like to see the Commonwealth Games souvenir stores filled not with cheap, mass-produced items made overseas, but instead with items that are made locally (if possible) with product waste from the making of the Games. What are the items usually sort after and on display? I’d think about how these can be made from upcycling already existing materials.

Hands-on upcycling

10 Nov

With so much talk of upcycling by hand in this morning’s post, we thought we’d show you how Conserve India does it. Remember our photoshoot with freelance photographer, Jake Murphy, during the Commonwealth Games?

While he was with us, we asked him to capture some images of Conserve India staff in action at the East Delhi workshop. There were so many good shots we’ve broken them up into different posts charting the various aspects of Conserve’s production process, starting with:

preparing the base materials…

Conserve India production - cleaning tyre tubes

…to developing workable designs…

Conserve India production - design consultation

…then creating product samples…

Conserve India production - threading machine

…with precision…

Conserve India production - precision sewing


Conserve India production - sampling cushion covers

…and concentration.

Conserve India production - sampling

Once designs and samples are created, orders are taken and the full production process gets underway. We’ll post more photos on the workshop soon.

But before we do, I’m excited to tell you we have another special guest to showcase in our project Q&A series. She’s Australian, living abroad and one of the top design bloggers in the world (Can you guess who?)

We were pretty chuffed she made time to contribute to our little project. Looking forward to sharing her thoughts with you tomorrow.

Does handmade = upcycled?

10 Nov

Yesterday I was researching online and stumbled across a friend’s music video – the props and set are virtually all handmade.

But does something handmade necessarily make it upcycled? I’ve been thinking about this question since I first discovered an impressive book on India’s vast array of handicrafts – Handmade in India.

I started flicking through it while loitering in the Full Circle Bookstore in N Block Market, Greater Kailash, and began wondering how many of the featured handicrafts could be considered upcycling.

Some examples appear to meet our definition (taking disposable or discarded things and repurposing them into valuable, useful, or simply aesthetically pleasing items): papier mache masks and effigies or felted Gabba rugs made from old woollen fabrics mixed with waste cotton are two examples.

But what about Kashta Kari (wood carving) or Varaq Ka Kaam (edible gold and silver foil)? They’re using raw materials aren’t they? Is this necessarily a bad thing? And what about the importance of preserving different forms of cultural and artistic expression? Who knows, they could be as important to human survival as the planet’s biological diversity.

So something made by hand doesn’t automatically mean it’s been upcycled and an upcycled product could always be manufactured by automated machines.

But, arguably, the best kind of upcycling is done by hand. Why?

1. It saves on unnecessary energy use in running machines and factories.

2. There are less virgin materials needed so there is less environmental impact.

3. It challenges us to be highly creative and innovative because we are working with limited resources.

4. There is a direct connection between product and creator, a feeling of joy or satisfaction that comes from making something with your own hands.

Upcycling, for me, is a natural extension of handmade, it’s handicraft done with greater awareness of connections and consequences: it’s about making something with hand, head and heart.

It’s official!

1 Nov


Delhi 2010 Organising Committee head office

Delhi 2010 Organising Committee head office - we know it well...

After numerous visits to the Games head office, we’ve secured permission from representatives of the Delhi 2010 organising committee to collect Games promotional and advertising waste. We were given contact details for the main contractor company responsible for installing Games street banners, like these, across the city:

Commonwealth Games wall wraps in use

An Indian mahout rides on his elephant past the Commonwealth Games Village in New Delhi on October 1, 2010. (MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images) via the Boston Globe's Big Picture

Why the banners? Well, there are a couple of reasons:

1. We knew we had a good chance of creating products from the street banners as we’d created samples with similar materials prior to the Games.

2. The banners look great, they’re almost an iconic symbol of these Commonwealth Games (if you look at the Big Picture images they are the backdrop to at least half a dozen photos).

3. We discovered around 25,000 kgs of these banners in a warehouse waiting to be sold as scrap. Yep, that’s 25 tonnes of synthetic plastic banners just from this one aspect of the Games. That’s a significant waste stream in our opinion.

So I (Liz) got on the blower (phone) and asked the contracting company – also responsible for collection and disposal of the banners after the Games – if I could come and check out the waste. And here’s what I found at their warehouse…

Commonwealth Games wall wrap

Commonwealth Games street banners before stripping from metal stands

Commonwealth Games red wall wrap

Commonwealth Games banner after removal from stand

I was about to head back to the Conserve India office when I also spied banners from the 2010 Hockey World Cup held in Delhi last March. How cool is this design? After talking to Conserve’s designers we’ve decided we’ll ask for some of these as well.

2010 Hockey World Cup Banner

2010 Hockey World Cup Banner

So, we’ve identified a Games waste stream and secured permission to use it for making products. Now comes the tricky part of figuring out how much we can use, where we can store it, developing workable product designs and creating samples. Not to mention finding a buyer for the products! Looks like our real work is only just beginning…

But while we’re doing all this, we thought we’d ask for your  ideas: what would you create from this material?

It doesn’t have to be a bag, in fact Conserve India has already made stationery items, footwear and home interiors – like lampshades and rugs – from waste materials. If you’d like to submit a product idea we’d love to hear from you – simply describe it in a comment to this post or email and we’ll get back to you with a response.

More updates soon.



%d bloggers like this: