Upcycling: The Solution to Waste Generation


The world is seeing a lot of innovations with regard to the growing threat of climate change and socio-environmental damage in favour of profits. One such innovation, aimed at reducing the impact of waste on natural resources, is Upcycling. This article will focus on one woman making a difference in this regard, Winnie McHenry.

Who is Winnie McHenry and what led you to your career?

  • I did not start out as an “Up-cycler” ; the term was only coined in 1997 but I have always been environmentally aware. Working with organisations like Greenpeace when I was still in school. This as well as the fact that my mother was always a very crafty person who put me on the road to Upcycling. This led me to combining green and crafting, and this is what my early days in Upcycling were all about. In short I would say it has always been my desire to help people and the planet that put me on this career path.

How did you come up with the idea for your business?

  • My journey goes way back to even before Upcycling was even a term. I have always been passionate about the people and the environment, and this is what led me to be part of Greenpeace and other organisations. I had started a website called Crafty Corner and on the site, I always had a section about recycling projects. It was early in 2006 that I stumbled across the term Upcycle and I decided to start a separate company and called it Upcycle. It was here I was able to realise my dream which was the diverting of waste from landfills and teaching people the skills so that they can also become upcyclers.

How does your business contribute to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals?

  • Upcycle focuses on the upskilling of people through the use of waste materials as a source of income. This ties in directly to the UN sustainability mandates and goals of social responsibility and environment goals.
Winnie with trainees.
  • How does this help with the easing of unemployment and poverty?
    • We work with youth that have been given business skills and expose them to alternative ideas and ways to make money outside of the traditional concepts. Too often the skills programs fail to provide any scope or support beyond the theoretical programs and this is where Upcycle’s practical approach makes a huge difference.

How many organizations and projects is Upcycle connected to?

  • Currently we work with 3 organisations to help expose learners to Upcycling though workplace readiness programs. 

How does corporate social responsibility help you maintain your business and social contributions?

  • It is through the support from companies that have Socio-Economic Development (SED) and Corporate Social Investment (CSI) budgets that we are able to run our training programs. The funds donated are used to put our trainers in the field and continuously train and teach new people about upcycling. Some of the funding is also used to purchase completed Upcycle items from crafters we have already trained to help sustain them though direct support.
Some of the donated CSI products outside Upcycle.

What are you most proud of accomplishing with your business and reach?

  • I am proud of each and every person I have taught. Our core team who started out as learners, became Up-cyclers then full time trainers in our programs. I am also proud of every person we have worked with for being willing to take on this brave new front called Upcycle and putting the time and energy into making a difference to the planet. 

What are the greatest challenges you have faced while running your business and helping others?

  • Funding has always been the greatest challenge. We spent the first stages of our growth proving you can make a living from waste, Upcycling. It is because of this that we were self funded. The other challenge is to get people to see that waste is another man’s treasure just in the wrong place.

What advice do you have for aspiring business owners, especially those in waste management?

  • In the end the greatest advice I can give any young person starting out is to follow ones passion and to never give up. It is often said when things are the hardest that you are the closest to achieving your aim “three feet from gold”.

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