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Aluminum Upcycled

, 216 pages

18 halftones, 2 line drawings

February 2017



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Usually ships 2-3 business days after receipt of order.

Aluminum Upcycled

Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective


Besides being the right thing to do for Mother Earth, recycling can also make money—particularly when it comes to upcycling, a zero waste practice where discarded materials are fashioned into goods of greater economic or cultural value. In Upcycling Aluminum, Carl A. Zimring explores how the metal’s abundance after World War II—coupled with the significant economic and environmental costs of smelting it from bauxite ore—led to the industrial production of valuable durable goods from salvaged aluminum.

Beginning in 1886 with the discovery of how to mass produce aluminum, the book examines the essential part the metal played in early aviation and the world wars, as well as the troubling expansion of aluminum as a material of mass disposal. Recognizing that scrap aluminum was as good as virgin material and much more affordable than newly engineered metal, designers in the postwar era used aluminum to manufacture highly prized artifacts. Zimring takes us on a tour of post-1940s design, examining the use of aluminum in cars, trucks, airplanes, furniture, and musical instruments from 1945 to 2015.

By viewing upcycling through the lens of one material, Zimring deepens our understanding of the history of recycling in industrial society. He also provides a historical perspective on contemporary sustainable design practices. Along the way, he challenges common assumptions about upcycling’s merits and adds a new dimension to recycling as a form of environmental absolution for the waste-related sins of the modern world. Raising fascinating questions of consumption, environment, and desire, Upcycling Aluminum is for anyone interested in industrial and environmental history, discard studies, engineering, product design, music history, or antiques.

Carl A. Zimring is an associate professor of sustainability studies at Pratt Institute. He is the author of Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America and Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States.

"A refreshingly clear, open, and engaging contribution to the discourse on aluminum, this deeply researched book is a logical and extremely balanced contribution to the history of technology and environmental history."

"The work presents a robust survey of the developmental history of aluminum as an engineering material, the need for huge sources of electrical power to refine it, its applications in the aircraft industry, and its use in household items... Recommended."

"Aluminum Upcycled provides an excellent overview to the enormous growth of aluminum and to the history and design of the diverse applications of the metal. Indeed, it is a worthy addition to the literature of the aluminum industry."

"Zimring’s Aluminum Upcycled makes a valuable contribution to the fields of design and industrial ecology, as well as to business and environmental history."

"A wonderful, eye-opening read, available from Johns Hopkins University Press."

"Aluminum Upcycled shows that sustainable design practices have a long, fascinating history that can inform contemporary debates and challenge common assumptions... The well-balanced book speaks to historians of technology as much as to historians of environment, waste, design, and music."

"An impressive study of America's fascination with the metal in the postwar period and how the metal's history connects with broader themes of waste and recycling... The book excels as a history of industrial design, but, in chronicling the nation's love affair with aluminum, makes seeing how we can escape our ties to the twentieth-century metal difficult."

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