What Exactly is Upcycling?

4 minute read

By Dorathy Gass

Most people are familiar with the three Rs of reduce, reuse, recycle. However, not many people practice upcycling, which is the most effective way to assist our environment. Start a search today to learn all about upcycling.

The three Rs are efficient at eliminating waste and protecting Mother Earth. However, upcycling is critical when it comes to saving our planet’s depleting resources. Read on to find out how to incorporate upcycling in your life.

What is Upcycling?

What exactly is upcycling, you ask? Well, it centers around the process of taking discarded or old materials from an item and turning into something that can be useful and new again.

Fine examples of upcycling include:

The ideas are endless!

Different from Recycling

Not to be confused with recycling — where consumer materials are broken down and remade into another consumable product — upcycling doesn’t break down materials. Instead, they are simply refashioned. The materials hold the same quality as within the original item. They are just reused in a different way.


In this day and age where we live in such a disposable society, many may doubt the benefits of upcycling. However, the very process helps to decrease carbon dioxide emissions significantly. In fact, one ton of discarded textiles that are upcycled equals out to about 20 tons of carbon dioxide does not enter the environment.

How to Properly Upcycle

Sold on the upcycling trend yet? Not only can you help the environment by breathing an air of new life into household items, but projects of this type can be a great stress reliever and a perfect way to bond with the family or friends.

Below are some tips to help get you started with any potential upcycling projects you may have on the horizon.

Frame of Mind

From old clothes to pillows to furniture, pretty much anything and everything can be reused. The first and most important part of upcycling is changing your mindset.

Before you throw anything out, work through an upcycling checklist of sorts. As such, answer the following questions:

Focus on Your Strengths

Upcycling projects can seem intimidating for those individuals that don’t feel as crafty as the images splashed across Pinterest.

Some people are great at painting, while others might be able to rewire lamps like a boss. Focus on your strengths when it comes to upcycling.

You may not be able to turn those five wooden stocking crates into a lounge set for your patio, but you may be able to sand down and repaint that old desk you found at a garage sale to place in your home office.

Peruse Ideas

Speaking of Pinterest, it can help with researching ideas for upcycling projects you can dive into.

Start small and work your way up. Before you know it, you’ll be turning your old dumpy garbage can into a spiffy flowerpot to showcase in your front or backyard.

Be Prepared

Remember the old saying “fail to plan, plan to fail”? The same ideology can burn you when it comes to upcycling.

Once you’ve determined your project, ensure you have everything you need to dive right into the job. Whether that be paintbrushes, scissors, old scrub rags to wipe down items or furniture, or sewing kits for any mending jobs.

Before starting a project, really look at what you’ll need from start to finish, and ensure you have all items on hand. There is nothing more frustrating than starting a project, building momentum, and then having to stop it because you don’t have the proper tools on hand.

Not All Projects Have to Be Big

Who doesn’t love to see those big upcycling projects on social media? You know, the ones where someone was able to convert an old entertainment unit into a child’s play kitchen with elaborate knobs and gadgets?

Yes, this is an incredible example of upcycling. However, even something as simple as swapping books with a friend, making jewelry with your kids using items from around the house, or simply adding a new set of buttons on an old cardigan are all fine examples of upcycling. All projects don’t have to be ginormous ones.

Engage Friends and Family

Now that upcycling has entered your life, share the love with friends and family.

Start a Facebook group to engage others. Not only will you be inspiring your network, but you can also swap items, ideas, and work on projects together.

Go one step further and try to incorporate upcycling into your gifting for birthdays and other holidays. There’s nothing more special than giving or receiving something that has been made by a friend or family member.

Be Creative… Have Fun!

The sky’s the limit when it comes to upcycling. The best part of it all is that you can truly run wild with your imagination and think out of the box when it comes to projects. For instance, old ladders can be transformed into bookshelves, old suitcase can be turned into a chair, or old wine bottle can be re-assembled into a chandelier. The ideas are only limited to your imagination.

Moreover, have fun with your upcycle projects. Also, have a sense of pride in the fact that you are making something interesting and personalized within your home. You are adding a new chapter to an old item that might have hit the garbage dump and creating a huge impact on the environment.

Dorathy Gass