What Is Upcycling?September 17, 2021 · Maria Harutyunyan
Amidst the growing popularity of sustainable lifestyles, many new phrases have emerged. One in particular that’s recently gained currency is ‘upcycling’. You may have come across this novel concept yourself, and wondered “what is upcycling?” Put simply, upcycling is the modification of older products to produce new ones.
However, this simple explanation belies the impressive creativity that the practice often entails. The level of care and innovation involved in upcycling typically results in a product with more value than the original. People accomplish this through a mixture of restoring, repairing, and refurbishing used materials. This not only extends the materials’ lifespans, but also produces highly desirable end products in many cases.
Read on for a crash course into upcycling and the many benefits this phenomenon is delivering.
Examples Of Upcycling
To give you a better understanding of upcycling, let’s look at some examples that illustrate the concept.
Fashion Items & Textiles
Have a ripped t-shirt or worn out blanket? Don’t throw them out! They are perfect upcycling materials and can be used creatively to make other clothing items. For example, they can be sewn into a new t-shirt or patchwork blanket. Alternatively, they can make unique bookmarks, ties, or tablecloths with a little cutting. If you’re building a family, your adult socks can be turned into cute leggings for your toddler. Just use your imagination. The possibilities are endless!
Another area where you can get creative is with old pieces of furniture. If you have an aging cabinet that’s seen better days, keep hold of it. Sandpaper and a lick of paint could be all that’s needed to get it looking fresh and new. You can even upcycle other items into furniture. For example, if you have some old crates, clean them and add some paint. By stacking them up on each other you can construct an attractive storage case. Another idea could be turning an old ladder into a towel rack for your bathroom. Try different things. You’ll be surprised by the results.
You’d also be surprised at just how many discarded items can be recycled into great homeware products. For example, your old glass jars can be used as vases for flowers. They also make attractive storage containers for dried foodstuffs. Items like empty aluminum cans make great plant pots with a rustic feel. Similarly, when you finish a tube of mascara, try hanging on to the small brush. Once cleaned, it can be used to dust hard to reach areas or smaller items like jewelry.
These are just a few examples of what’s possible with upcycling. Apply your imagination and creativity, and you can produce some real wonders.
Is There A Difference Between Repurposing & Upcycling?
Upcycling has a great deal in common with repurposing. Both refer to gaining additional use from an older product. However, there is a distinction between the two.
Repurposing simply involves taking an item and finding a different use for it. The process of upcycling, however, involves adding some extra value to the item. For example, finding an old crate and using it as a footstool falls under the repurposing category. But sanding it, painting it, and using it as a side table is an example of upcycling.
Even with this slight difference in the two concepts, the reuse of older items involved in both is greatly beneficial to the environment.
Does Upcycling Differ From Recycling?
Another related term for upcycling is recycling. But there is also a distinction between these two concepts as well. Recycling refers to the act of converting waste into reusable materials. Items like glass, paper, and plastics are broken down to make other products. This differs from upcycling in two important ways.
In the first instance, upcycling catches materials before they enter the waste system. This means they are never taken to a recycling plant or landfill. As a result, less greenhouse gases are produced through transportation and processing. Secondly, recycling often produces materials that are of a lower quality than the original. Conversely, for many people the whole point of upcycling is to create something better.
You may also have heard the term ‘downcycling’ thrown around. This is similar to recycling, but with greater emphasis on the poorer quality aspect. For instance, one might downcycle printer paper as toilet paper. The end result is generally less desirable than “upcycling”. Nevertheless, this is a beneficial practice because it still extends the life cycle of a product.
What Are The Benefits Of Upcycling?
Now that you have a clear idea of what upcycling is and how to do it, let’s take a closer look at some of its benefits. Not only does it benefit the environment, but it can also improve your own life. Read on to discover how.
Firstly, upcycling is a great way of limiting your environmental impact. At its core, this process takes older items and extends their life cycle — saving them from being sent to landfills. It also means you’re buying less items, which In turn, helps to curtail the growth of environment-damaging industries.
In addition to helping save the planet, upcycling can also save you money! You can create highly practical new products while sidestepping the costs. In some cases you may need to purchase new materials like paint to spruce up items but it typically works out to be much cheaper than buying entirely new products.
Upcycling can help to improve your mental wellbeing. Turning an old product into something new and beautiful can be incredibly rewarding. There is also something therapeutic about indulging your creative side. The benefits of creative activities on mental health include:
- An increase in positive emotions
- Stress reduction
- A decrease in depressive symptoms
- Lower anxiety
Are you into one-of-a-kind items? Do you have an eccentric style? Well, your décor and wardrobe will love upcycling. It is a great way of creating truly unique, functional products that no one else owns.
What Materials Can Be Upcycled?
Almost anything can be upcycled. Here are a few examples of the materials you can use to elucidate this point.
Our bigger purchases are often delivered in large cardboard boxes, which are then deposited in recycling bins. However, cardboard is a relatively durable and versatile material. You can use it to make bookshelves or photo boards. With a bit of creativity and craftsmanship, they can even be transformed into children’s playhouses.
Styrofoam And Other Packing Materials
Many companies still use far too many non-biodegradable protective materials in their packages. If your parcels include this when they arrive, you can upcycle it. For instance, its soft nature of Styrofoam and other packaging materials can make them ideal as the base for flower arrangement. You could also sew it into an old blanket to make your own bean-bag type of seat.
The fact that you can upcycle garden waste often catches people off guard. We can confirm that it’s not a myth. When cleaning your garden, gather up leaves, branches, and blossoms, which can all be used to make attractive wreaths. You can also turn them into striking centerpieces for wedding dinners. In addition to this, flowers and leaves can be pressed to make pretty wall hangings.
Plastics are a blight on the environment. Taking hundreds of years to break down, they wreak havoc in the seas and on land. As such, one of the best ways of mitigating this damage is by upcycling your plastic waste. It’s also much easier than you might think.
With just a quick coat of paint, your shampoo bottles can make an attractive vase. By cutting the tops off large soda bottles and adding some decoration, you could have yourself a lovely plant pot. Alternatively, you could cut down plastic milk bottles to make folders for your documents and files. You can go in so many different directions when upcycling plastic waste.
Glass is one of the more convenient materials to upcycle. Its weight and durability make it easy to transform into many useful items. Much like plastic bottles, you can also transform glass bottles into unique vases. Similarly, you can use them as the basis for striking centerpieces. If you are really artistic, you could create distinctive decorations like windchimes.
You can upcycle almost any material in one way or another as you can see above. Once you apply your imagination to the task, the sky’s the limit.
Upcycle Before You Recycle
“What is upcycling?” is a question more and more people are asking. With a better understanding of what it is and how to do it, you are now in a better position to tap into your creative side for benefits to both yourself as well as the environment.
For you individually, upcycling can be more economical, improve your mental wellbeing and result in exclusive products that no one else owns. When it comes to the environment, upcycling is a great alternative to recycling because it doesn’t generate the same harmful greenhouse gasses that recycling does.
So instead of throwing out your old items or turning them in for recycling right away, look to upcycle instead. It goes a long way towards improving the planet’s wellbeing in addition to yours!