The wonderful world of upcycling

September 16, 2016

The next time you are planning a big clean out of your house, stop a moment before you throw your old items into the rubbish skips. Although an old piece of furniture or a broken item may look like junk now, there are ways you can restore these things to make them into useful and funky new items.

Welcome to the wonderful world of upcycling, where everything gets a second chance at life.

Upcycling is the process of converting old and unwanted items or materials into something that is useful. The item becomes something that serves a better purpose and is usually very creative. Recreating something new out of old materials can give them purpose again, often as a beautiful new ornament for any room in the house.

Isn’t it just a fancy word for recycling?

There is a difference between recycling and upcycling. Recycling means breaking an item down into the base materials it was originally made from, to then make a completely new item. Often, the new thing made from the recycled material isn’t as good quality or as strong as the original item.

Whereas upcycling uses the original materials to make something that is even better, or higher quality, than it once was. The original item may be broken down, for example a glass light fitting might be dismantled to make something completely new, but the glass used would have remained intact and not melted down to make new glass.

Another way to describe upcycling is to tell you to think about what an older person does around their house. Have you ever visited an elderly relative and noticed that they have reused the old coffee container or the cookie jar for a brand new purpose? Or perhaps Grandma has told you stories from the old days when she would fashion dresses out of old curtain material.

These examples are all upcycling and the practice has been around for many years. It is only the term ‘upcycling’ that is new. The word was introduced in 2002 by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in a book they co-authored called Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.

The upside of upcycling

There are some great reasons why you should upcycle instead of simply throwing old items out. These reasons include:

  1. Save money: You may want to redecorate your home every year or so to keep up with the trends, but your wallet may have other ideas. Upcycling is a fun solution to having new decorative pieces in your home for no extra cost. For example, if you were planning on throwing out that old wooden ladder why not paint it instead and turn it into a towel rack or a bookshelf.
  2. Save the environment: The more you upcycle, the less garbage goes into landfill. Unless it can be recycled, which is a great option of course. However, as recycling still takes energy and water to break it down and make something new, that means upcycling is the greenest option for your old items.
  3. Get creative: Use your weekends to use your mind and do something really creative; like turning an old bike wheel into a clock, or old bottles into a chandelier. Creating things with your hands can be very calming and meditative.

Some ideas for upcycling

Stuck for where to start with your new upcycling plan? We have some ideas for you.

The first step is to do a good clean out of your home. Sort through your old items to determine what really is junk versus what could be salvaged. Hire a skip for the real rubbish, and then get to work on your first project or two:

  • Cut up your old wetsuits to make dog chew toys. Cut it into cute shapes like bones or puppy paws.
  • Old-school tube TV’s, the ones with the legs and the dials on the side, can be hollowed out to make funky fish tanks.
  • Use an old door to create a new table or bench. Simply sand it back and either coat it in varnish or paint. Add a variety of old, colourful chairs for an eclectic look.
  • If you have a bunch of odd buttons hanging around your house, don’t throw them in the bin. You can turn them into cute hair clips for yourself or the kids! Grab some glue and some old bobby pins and before you know it you’ll have hair accessories that are as cute as …well, a button!

Now it’s your turn. Take a look around your house, or even in your trash can, and see what clever and creative ideas you can come up with.