Upcycling: A Simple Way to Make a Big Difference for the Environment

Segun Ade-Martins

Upcycling Redefined 2023: “Our Built Environment” is a workshop organised by the International Institute for Creative Development, IICDCenter that was held from June 2 to June 22. This year’s theme focuses on “the connection between physical spaces and its social consequences on the climate.”  

The workshop was supervised by lead facilitator Nduwhite Ndubuisi A., an artist and curator and additional facilitation was conducted by Collins Abinoro and Steve Ekpenisi both hybrid sculptors.

Upcycling workshop invited building professionals; architects, industrial material producers, and engineers, as well as artists, into the programme. The workshop was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, and serving as partners are Transcorp Hilton, Mambaah Cafe, NTAG, and Ashawa Consults Ltd. 

Using tangible projects from the participants, the workshop will showcase these projects, which are three individual works and two group pieces.

For three weeks, sparks flew as metal was ground, cut, and welded while all sorts of plastic was melted and twisted. All this took place at Nomad Technology Art Garden, an open space tucked behind and between Mambaah Cafe and Cans Technology Park in Maitama, Abuja. 

After introductions, orientation, a film screening, a walk for the environment, and a welding class from the facilitators, the participants went junking, a process of looking for scrapped items that can be reused. Incidentally, there is a long, established scrap economy in Nigeria where recyclers need to obtain junk through cash exchange.    

Ten of the thirteen participants immediately went to welding stations, where they put together their armatures, or initial structures. While the other participants worked with softer materials, such as paper, wood, plastic bags, perspex, etc. 

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The “junk metal” group was mostly established sculptors Alvin Betzalel, Bakare Shariff, Judith Daduut, Samuel Tega Ekpokpobe, Adeleye Ibukunoluwa, Onyekachi Francis Nwosu, and Blossom Eromosele.

The “soft” materials group contained Yusuf Seidu Okus, Fisola Olagbemi, 

Njoku Moses, Asiegbu Collins Uzoh, Omeh Stanley Chukwunonso, and Linda Zaki. 

Unique bonds formed in these groups based on a determination to experiment and learn. For example, Asiegbu, a metal sculptor who is a returning participant, attended the last workshop in 2021 and decided to create paper sculptures rather than his preferred metal work.

Experimentation abounded as Njoku incorporated a technique called quilling from paper craft into his perspex plastic manipulation. He wasn’t done there, as he made metal sculptures as well. Architect Eromosele was new to metal sculpting but curiousity and courage was enough to master the junk metal technique. Even Olagbemi, a mixed media artist with an affinity for painting, had the urge to work with metal for the first time. Omeh, an electrical and electronic engineer and alternative energy expert, felt at home with the “junk” metal technique as well as pieces with interactive capabilities.

Artists like Daduut, Nwosu, Asiegbu, and Yusuf are returning participants from a previous Upcycling workshop, which only proves the value of this workshop to the artists, their collaborators, and environmental conservation.

The process of upcycling art and design fits perfectly into the circular economy. Until the recent years, recycling has been the focus of environmental conservation and it is the process of reducing industrial waste materials for new manufacturing. However, both the reduction and manufacturing processes are still huge pollutant-friendly energy consumers. 

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Meanwhile, upcycling uses considerably less energy as it remains in bespoke and artisanal spaces such as this workshop. Upcycling has a bigger part to play in environmental sustainability.

The essence of the workshop is to enlighten and inspire people to consciously think about the environmental impact of our built environment. Buildings contribute immensely to waste gases and materials, which is easily overlooked. A waste-to-wealth process such as upcycling can become necessary to promote low carbon, low impact, and sustainable objects and spaces.

Ultimately, upcycling stimulates creativity, lowers trash, saves energy, and provides new employment. As economies experience economic hardship owing to automation and the global economy strives to create jobs, the waste-to-wealth sector, or the circular economy, can create new opportunities as it scales to the global stage. This can be an area of tremendous growth. We need to look towards the future to see what the horizon holds for Upcycling: Redefined.  

In the meantime, an exhibition for the workshop will take place at the Transcorp Hilton hotel in Abuja on September 6. All are invited to attend, as the IICD Centre, the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, and the Ministry of Environment will highlight and hope to inspire people to act on environmental conservation efforts in their daily lives through the work of the workshop participants.

• Ade-Martins writes from Abuja 

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