Upcycling off to a good start with UPER’S
A trend that’s here to stay, encouraged by ecological necessity and by new regulations and the expectations of enlightened consumers, reuse or “upcycling” is bound to see more and more development. The French furniture making confederation l’Ameublement Français has given birth to an original consortium named UPER’S, which is determined to structure and vitalize upcycling in its sector.
We talk with the movement’s spokesman, fitter-out Fabrice Poncet.
What’s the current context for upcycling?
A favourable but very demanding context. Eco-organizations like Valdelia or éco-mobilier have been working hard at recycling; we estimate a recycling rate of 91% for collected furniture, that’s to say stripped of components like aluminium, plastic, foams, laminates, which are sent to various channels to be transformed for reuse. But in today’s European laws, as well as the AGEC Act, reuse is given priority over recycling in the reprocessing hierarchy.
The objectives set by the AGEC Act are very ambitious. As an example, in its plans for 2022, reuse will account for 20% of office furniture purchased by the public sector. That adds up to a huge volume that can’t be tackled unless the upcycling branch has an adequate structure. So far we’ve been good at working either in very direct circuits—for example the rental and second hand markets—or in much longer circuits like component recycling. What we must work on now are intermediate circuits, which involve intervention at various levels to achieve faster, more local upcycling without the destruction of materials.
What actions are needed in order to develop more recirculation in the manufacture of furniture and fittings?
You’ve pretty much defined the ambition of the UPER’S movement, an offspring of l’Ameublement Français. We have created links between industrial manufacturers of furniture and fittings and small structures, predominantly start-ups inspired by the “social and solidarity economy” initiative, who are working on short or intermediate upcycling circuits but lack the firepower to handle very large volumes.
The objective is to be able to develop solutions together: to exploit all the resources, we need unity.
Within the movement, we have structures like Merci René or Square Solutions, who can take on the role of integrator to enable bidding on public or private tenders that include enquiries not only for new, local, sustainable furniture but also upcycled furniture. Another example is 100 Détours, who notably upcycles window and door frames and thanks to us is now in relation with the urban furniture manufacturers’ group within l'Ameublement Français. Our mission is to spread the upcycling mindset and create opportunities for joint action. In our own business, La Fabrique, we have incubated and assisted l’Atelier Emmaus, which makes new furniture out of used furniture parts while integrating a design dimension and insisting heavily on manufacturing quality. Nowadays, l’Atelier Emmaus, as well as l’Atelier Extra Muros or indeed Seve furniture, create and manufacture bespoke furniture using recovered, upgraded wood. All these resources are mobilized within the UPER’S movement.
In your view, what could be holding back the development of upcycling?
There are three main obstacles. The first is pre-conceived ideas about upcycled product prices. The added value in upcycling is the fruit of labour, whose cost governs the final price. Upcycling is therefore not a cheap option. But it does create jobs—it’s been estimated that 10,000 tonnes of buried waste create one job. For the same amount of reused waste, it’s 650 jobs.
The second obstacle is the quality of the source. We recover a lot of white laminate panels, so we need to input some real added value in terms of design by modifying the customary approaches: we have to work with what we have before us to reinvent an item of furniture or a fitting. Good looks are a major criterion for upcycled products in order to connect with a market.
The third obstacle is logistical. The issue is to identify sources, to collect them, and to store them to avoid their deterioration into unusable waste. Pairing supply with demand is still an infant art, even with materials repositories gradually progressing.
In UPER’S, we work across all these briefs because the issues are enormous. As an illustration, it’s estimated that nowadays each French person produces 10 tonnes of CO2 every year. By 2050, this figure needs to be halved. If we succeed in modifying manufacturing modes and lengthening the service life of furniture to bring the curtains down on the “fast-furniture” culture, by routinely designing with ecology and low carbon in mind, we can divide the CO2 output by 4 and then by 8 thanks to upcycling. That’s motivational, isn’t it?
Table designed and made by 100 Détours out of wooden table parts.