Did you know 21% of Americans update clothing, boxes and goods regularly? (Heal the Planet)
This reduces the need for new goods, reducing dependency on valuable resources and effectively reducing waste.
Now, “updating” something is essentially upcycling, such as giving your dull dining tables a new coat of paint, or updating that dirty old armchair new fabric.
So, if you want to learn more about upcycling, its vast benefits, as well as learn how to do it yourself, then read on!
In this article...
What Is Upcycling?
Upcycling is reusing unwanted products or material waste and turning them into new products or materials that are of a higher value or quality.
What Is the Difference Between Recycling and Upcycling?
Recycling converts waste materials or products into new ones, whereas upcycling adds value or increases the quality of previously unwanted materials/products.
Instead of throwing away an old or broken piece of furniture, you could strip it down for parts to create into a new object – That’s upcycling.
Upcycling and Remanufacturing: What’s the Difference?
Remanufacturing rebuilds a product to return it to its original form using a mixture of reused, repaired, or entirely new components.
For example, a faulty mobile phone can have its broken parts replaced with functioning ones.
Upcycling, on the other hand, means repurposing a product that would otherwise be wasted or thrown away and making it into something more valuable.
Upcycling vs Downcycling
Downcycling, unlike upcycling, decreases something’s value. It’s when a material or product is converted into something of a lower quality.
An example would be melting down a cloth backpack and downcycling it into yarn.
The yarn isn’t as valuable as the backpack it came from.
Recycling plastics is a type of downcycling as the end result is a lower-quality plastic.
What Is the Purpose of Upcycling?
Upcycling reduces waste and improves the efficiency of resource use, making it a better option than downcycling.
Sustainability and Businesses
Did you know that 68 million Americans base their purchasing decisions on their values and will spend up to 20% more on environmentally sound products? (Forbes)
Now, being self-sustainable is definitely something more of us should strive to be, but creating a business that promotes sustainability is another great venture.
Upcycling items and then selling them, letting your buyers know exactly where you sourced materials could be something worth looking at.
Upcycling as a Business
One of my favorite stalls at my local market sells upcycled furniture, all from materials they’ve found at thrift/charity stores or even saved from trash cans and dumps.
By looking at the craftsmanship and quality of the furniture, you’d never guess they were upcycled.
If you’re got a creative flair and love DIY, then creating a business related entirely to upcycled items could be the next step forward!
Interesting article on sustainability from Forbes here
Is Upcycling Eco-friendly?
Upcycling is incredibly eco-friendly as it helps reduce the amount of waste that is sent to landfills or trash that inevitably ends up in oceans.
It’s estimated that a staggering 14 billion pounds of garbage (most of which is plastic) is thrown into the world’s oceans each year.
What’s even more staggering is that there is six times more plastic than phytoplankton per weight in the ocean, and fifty times more plastic than zooplankton.
What Does It Mean to Upcycle Something?
Upcycling isn’t just economically beneficial, there’s something about renewing something old and broken.
Taking the time to rescue an old item and give it a new breath of life can give you an enormous sense of pride.
It might be an old armchair that used to belong to your grandmother, or a side table you just can’t seem to part with because it cost a bit too much money.
Improve or Make Something New
Items like these don’t need to be discarded or seen as trash.
They can be transformed into something new and fresh.
Upcycling allows you to feel gratification or satisfaction knowing you’ve rescued something from the trash.
Giving an item a new coat of paint can really get your creative juices flowing and perhaps spur you on to make something even greater!
Benefits of Upcycling
Upcycling has a wealth of benefits, namely to do with the environment., It also enables you to save some money, too!
Let’s take a look at the advantages of upcycling and how it can change things for the better.
- It decreases our reliability of valuable resources such as fuel, forests, and water supplies, which helps protect wildlife habitats.
- It reduces air and water pollution, and lessens the amount of hazardous waste production that manufacturing creates.
- It helps cut down the amount of waste that has to be recycled and transported to landfills or incinerators.
- It decreases greenhouse gas emissions and saves energy, cutting down the amount that contributes to climate change fluctuations.
- It helps you save money as you’ll be using items to their full extent instead of throwing them away and purchasing something else.
Reducing What You Buy
Upcycling reduces what you buy, enabling you to save a bit of cash.
As you’ll be increasing an item’s longevity, you won’t need to go out and purchase something else.
Even the most worn down object can be turned into a treasure or used for parts for another project.
If you’re on the hunt for a new dining table, then why not give your old one a fresh coat of paint or a bit of repair?
Upcycling products and materials reduces the amount of waste thrown away. Many things are mass manufactured and designed to be thrown away.
Saving items and repurposing them can be a great way to counteract this.
Upcycling Helps The Environment
Upcycling also lowers the use of natural resources as it makes do with already existing ones.
Humans create a lot of waste, but upcycling can drastically reduce that amount.
By not upcycling, we’re contributing to the already high number of trash that is sent to landfills and incinerators.
Upcycling greatly reduces manufacturing costs as no new materials need to be made. It saves you money as you won’t need to purchase new items as regularly as you’ll be making do with what you already own.
Examples of Upcycling
The sky’s the limit when it comes to the sort of items you can upcycle.
If you’re looking for inspiration or ideas on how to creatively upcycle something, then I fully advise taking a look at sites like Pinterest.
I’ve gotten a little addicted to Pinterest as of late, and I’m a little ashamed to admit the number of boards and pins related to upcycling I have on my account.
Helps with Projects
I like using this platform as it puts all my ideas in one space, which is really convenient and easy to keep track of.
I have my pins separated by furniture, style, and colors, allowing me to quickly decide on a new idea or theme when I want to upcycle something.
Turning Trash into Treasures
As the saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.
Just because something looks like garbage, that doesn’t mean you can’t turn it into something new.
Scour your streets to see if your neighbors are throwing anything out that you could upcycle. Obviously, make sure you examine the item carefully beforehand to make sure it isn’t overly dirty or even has something living in it.
I think we’ve all heard those horror stories about someone bringing home a great find off the streets to then find it covered in fleas or worse.
I know my neighbors are always leaving things out on garbage disposal day that seem way too good for the landfill.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rescued an item that definitely didn’t belong in the trash can!
Reuse Items Instead of Buying New!
As I mentioned earlier, reusing items is much better than simply buying something new! Anything can be upcycled, even the most broken objects that are seemingly in a state of disrepair.
Even if you can’t find a use for an item in the immediate, you can always strip it down for parts that you can use for something else.
I once had a wooden coffee table that had snapped legs, but the rest of the unit was in great condition.
Old to Brand New
I took off the broken legs on the coffee table and replaced them with ones from an old side table that I’d previously taken apart.
The legs from the side table were a little long, so I simply sawed them down to the right size.
Then I gave the coffee table a new coat of varnish, and that’s all there was to it! The whole process took me 45 minutes tops, and the end result was a stunning coffee table that looked brand new.
Personalization/Making Items Unique
Personalizing something and giving it a unique touch is one of my favorite things about upcycling.
I’ve repainted doors and units so they better fit my style, as well as refurbished old armchairs so they suit the color of my living room.
I used to only purchase new items and furniture from big companies, but since upcycling, you’ll always find me in thrift stores and charity stores to hunt for a new DIY project.
Previously, I’d shy away from objects that didn’t match the color theme of my house, but now I’ll happily repaint something so it’s more in tune with my style.
Unleash Your Creativity
Upcycling allows you to unleash your creativity and discover inspiration. Not only does this make you feel good physically, but also mentally.
Activity and engaging in creative things has been shown to improve your wellbeing.
Can Help Reduce Stress
For example, art therapy is the application of expressing yourself creatively in a therapeutic context.
It can help manage behaviors, process feelings, increase self-esteem, and even reduce stress and anxiety.
Upcycling is a form of art as it involves things like painting, carpentry, and sewing. These types of creative ventures can have a number of benefits on your wellbeing.
- Self-esteem: Creating art gives you a sense of self-accomplishment, which can heighten your self-appreciation and confidence.
- Self-discovery: Making art can help you understand feelings and emotions that have been lingering in your subconscious.
- Stress relief: Creativity can help reduce depression and anxiety, as well as help you deal with emotional trauma by relaxing your body and mind.
- Emotional release: Making art provides you with a healthy way of expressing your feelings or fears. If there are times you cannot express yourself with words, then producing something creative can help you find them.
Buy at Thrift/Charity Shops
Supporting local businesses is never a bad thing, especially when it comes to upcycling.
A lot of great finds are just waiting for you at thrift stores, and at a fraction of the cost than what you’d get at a commercial company.
Additionally, you’ll be reducing the amount of waste produced from mass manufacturing as you’ll be buying something second hand.
If that wasn’t enough, buying at thrift/charity shops usually means you’re contributing to a good cause and helping out those who are in need.
Don’t Skimp When Buying Paint Brushes/Other Materials
Although upcycling can help you save money, that doesn’t mean you should skimp on the type of tools or materials you need to upcycle something.
This is especially true if you’re thinking of upcycling items to later sell, as no buyer wants something that is poorly made, even if it is sustainable or environmentally sound!
Investing in good tools allows you to make something better and do the job to a higher standard.
Why Invest In Upcycling?
Cheap paint brushes might not give you a smooth finish or could even leave behind bristles in the paint.
Alternatively, using cheap wood for a project could make it difficult to drill or nail into place as it could splinter or crack.
That said, if you only want to upcycle once, then you might be reluctant to invest in high-quality tools, especially if you’re not going to use them a second time.
But, it’s important to research exactly what materials or tools you need to achieve the desired result.
Skimping could mean you’ll have to upcycle something more than once due to breakage or poor design.
Challenges vs Opportunities
If you’ve got your mind set on a new upcycling project but think it’s a little too far out of your skillset, try not to view it as a challenge – instead, look at it as an opportunity!
No matter how impossible something might appear, there’s usually a way around it.
Maybe that couch you want to bring back to life has loose springs, a ripped cover, and broken legs that seem a bit too difficult to repair. And you’re tempted to just chuck it out as you’ve never replaced couch springs before.
Give It a Try
But, don’t throw in the towel just yet.
Watch some video tutorials on how to fix couch springs, read a few guides, talk to friends or family members who are nifty with DIY – see if you can sort out the issue you were previously unsure of.
Give it your best shot, and you never know – you might just learn a new technique to add to your toolset.
This will allow you to take on even more upcycling projects and give you a sense of accomplishment. The next time you need to replace couch springs, you’ll be a pro!
Upcycling isn’t just an at-home or personal project anymore.
There are now entire industries and corporations dedicated to sustainable fashion, including upcycling.
In fact, it is even profitable to upcycle (in some cases) and be more sustainable as a whole.
For instance, cotton used primarily in denim produces a large portion of textile waste, but it is land and water intensive.
Converting waste denim into reusable cotton fibres is difficult.
Ionic liquids, which are salts that are liquid, have been used in research to dissolve cotton fibres into cellulose building blocks to later be spun into new viscose-type fibres.
This process is pricey and challenging.
But, a new process on the horizon aims to cut solvent costs by 77%. And, what’s more, by retaining colors, it also slashes energy and water use that would otherwise be needed for dyeing!
Big Companies That Upcycle
Many big corporations are upcycling, including Adidas who have 6 million pairs of shoes with upcycled ocean plastic uppers so far.
Italian luxury brand Gucci is now a completely carbon neutral business.
Burberry, another luxury brand, released designs in 2019 that used recycled nylon woven from plastic fibres from thrown out fishing news, industrial plastic, and textile scraps.
Upcycling is on a much bigger scale than ever before, and it just goes to show what can be achieved if more of us start.
As you can see, upcycling is not only advantageous on a personal level but also a worldwide one.
By upcycling more, we can actively create less waste, use less resources, and even save money.
I started upcycling a few years back, and I’ve never felt better about myself, knowing that I’m being more sustainable and giving my creativity a good work out.
I hope I helped you learn more about upcycling and gave you some ideas on your next project.
Share Your Project With Us!
What’s the agenda for your next upcycling venture?
Let me know on our social media platform. And, if you have any pics of some things you’ve upcycled, send them over!
If you’re looking for more ideas on how to unleash your inner creativity, then be sure to check out our other posts.