Upcycling: Turning Trash Into Beauty And A Sparkling Career

By Samantha Melamed
The Philadelphia Inquirer.

PHILADELPHIA

When Tiffany Threadgould moved into her Philadelphia apartment in 2012, the first thing she did was trash the place.

But for Threadgould, 40, that didn’t mean making a mess. On the contrary, it’s all about discovering beauty, or at least function, in objects that might otherwise be destined for the landfill.

In her hands, CD jewel cases formed pendant lamps, paint cans became planters (and paint stirrers labels for a windowsill herb garden), and old sweaters made a cozy throw for her sofa.

Threadgould has been living in upcycled luxury since her days as a graduate student of industrial design at New York’s Pratt Institute. “My thesis was what I called ‘Trash Nouveau,’ ” she said, “taking waste and transforming it, turning it into something new, but also thinking about its past life.”

Now, Trash Nouveau is also Threadgould’s day job as head of product design at TerraCycle, in Trenton, N.J., which recycles all manner of waste, or upcycles it into consumer goods. She’s also a star of “Human Resources,” a reality TV series about the company that premiered this month on the cable channel Pivot.

Threadgould, who carries a silvery purse made of Capri Sun pouches and wears earrings she made from the X and O keys of a typewriter, can’t help taking her work home with her.

She was raised on a farm, where conservation was just part of life.

“I grew up with this mind-set of reusing and having a small footprint,” she said. “We’d compost, and that seemed normal. We’d have a really small bag of trash each month. You had to pay for waste service out in the country, like $1 a bag.”

Even after she moved to New York to work in marketing, those impulses remained, and she found a bounty of supplies right on the sidewalks.

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