The Editor's Picks: Summer's Best Upcycled Products

  • Jun 10, 2013
  • 776 words
  • 4 minutes
Expand Image

We all stick our blue boxes out to the curb on collection day, but what actually happens to all of the plastic we pile in there? Some of it is made into plastic bottles, carpets or drainage pipes, but some of is transformed in consumer products, or upcycled. Giving worn old products new value isn’t exactly a new phenomenon — my grandmother used to call it making do.

Quilting, making mosaics or welding together makeshift auto repairs are all basically versions of upcycling, and thanks to online tools such as Pinterest, there’s has been an explosion of do it yourself upcycling. Though exactly how well those cabinets made of shipping pallets hold up in the long run is anybody’s guess.

Individual upcycling projects surely have an impact on waste, but it’s also heartening to see commercial upcycling ventures. Few of us have the time to devote ourselves to fashioning our house and furnishings entirely from leftover materials, and even fewer have the inclination.

You might think that using recycled materials means sacrificing aesthetics, but it just isn’t the case. The Totem Hip City Messenger Bag is a case in point. It’s the sort of accessory that wouldn’t look out of place in Tokyo, Toronto or Tasmania. Its versatility reminded me a bit of Murad Osmann’s Follow Me To photo project, where he photographed his girlfriend leading him by the hand in cities and towns all over the world. Just as Osmann’s creative vision looked great all over the world, so too will Totem’s bags. He never made it to Canada, so I made an Osmann inspired Totem-themed image to go with this blog.

Here are three of my favourite upcycled products from the past year:

Mountain Equipment Co-op Yoho Jacket
Canada’s favourite outdoor gear co-operative has long been an environmental leader, and MEC has set a corporate goal of using only recycled polyester, which requires 75% less crude oil than traditional polyester to produce. They haven’t met this goal yet, but they have created some amazing products using recycled polyesters. The Yoho Jacket is just one of them. Typical of MEC, it’s a quality shell with a nice look that acquits itself admirably out in the wind and rain.

Expand Image
Who knew water bottles could look so good

Totem Hip City Messenger Bags
From discarded promotional banners, seat belts and bike inner tubes that would otherwise end up in landfills, Oakville, Ontario-based Totem bags fashions good-looking, unique bags. Because the majority of the material that you see is taken from banners, every bag has a slightly different look.

Totem sources its materials locally, so if Torontonians looking for a fashion equivalent to the 100-mile diet, totem is one of few options. Given the size of the city and the number of marketing firms based there, its designers are blessed with a diverse set of potential designs. Totem’s bags are comfortable, attractive and highly practical, but they’re not ideally suited to actually working as a bicycle messenger. My ex-bike messenger’s opinion of the bag is that it’s a little too small if you’re going to be barreling around town with 8 deliveries that need to be there 10 minutes ago.

It works well for what most people are likely to use it for though. The Hipcity messenger is comfortable for cycling commuters or city walking. It’s a very sturdy bag that retains Currently the bags are available in stores in Toronto, Oakville. Whistler, Montreal and Ottawa but can also be purchased online.

Keen Harvest MJ
Reusing materials doesn’t have to jeopardize style, and Keen’s Harvest MJ demonstrate it. Made from rice paper, these shoes are bold and vibrant, and no two pairs of these are exactly the same. Using recycled materials reduces the amount of material needed in both obvious and subtle ways. Eliminating the necessity for symmetry can reduce the waste in the production process. Using identical sections of patterned cloth in two different shoes can create waste in the cutting process. My female shoe tester found these to be practical for walking and work, making it possible to eliminate the need for one pair of shoes, and further reduce your ecological footprint, no pun intended…

Expand Image
Keen Harvest MJs are recycled and funky

Are there any upcycled product Can Geo should know about? Let us know below…


Related Content


What lies beneath: Ghost gear in our oceans

Ghost gear — lost or abandoned fishing gear — is a major problem in our oceans, but renewed efforts are underway to clean it up

  • 1487 words
  • 6 minutes


Canadian Geographic’s best of summer 2013 gear list

  • 1380 words
  • 6 minutes
Northern gannets in Gaspé


Editors’ picks: Our top travel experiences of 2017

Can Geo editors reveal their favourite destinations and travel experiences from the past year to help inspire your next adventure in Canada and beyond

  • 1355 words
  • 6 minutes
Canadian Geographic editors' favourite travel 2016


Editors’ choice: Six travel highlights from 2016

Can Geo editors reveal their favourite destinations and travel experiences from the past year

  • 1327 words
  • 6 minutes