What is Upcycling, Anyway?
What Is Upcyling?
Upcycling is the process of converting old or discarded materials into something useful and often beautiful. For example:
--Unraveling a wire clothes hanger to break into your car to rescue your keys = not upcycling
--Stretching out a wire clothes hanger then tying strips of a plastic bag around it to make a wreath = upcycling!
Upcycling gives an item a better purpose. And while jimmying the lock on your car to is giving that hanger a new purpose, it’s not necessarily better or more beautiful. And the mangled hanger is likely destined for the trash, which is the opposite intent of upcycling.
Recycling takes consumer materials — mostly plastic, paper, metal and glass — and breaks them down so their base materials can be remade into a new consumer product, often of lesser quality.
When you upcycle an item, you aren’t breaking down the materials. You may be refashioning it — like cutting a t-shirt into strips of yarn — but it’s still made of the same materials as when you started. Also, the upcycled item is typically better or the same quality as the original.
We made a few handy dandy infographics to visually explain recycling vs. upcycling. Check 'em out!
Grandma Was an Upcycler
Upcycling is not a new concept. Some of the best examples of modern-day upcycling come from the 1930s-40s when families had very little economic or material resources. In this age of thrift, they reused almost everything, repurposing items over and over until they were no longer useful: Feed sacks became dresses or old doors became the new dining room table.
What’s old is new again, but with a twist.
Thrift is still a trend today and a big reason some people upcycle. Others enjoy the artistic aesthetic, with lots of upcycled items rivaling those found in high-end department stores. But one of the biggest reasons for the rebirth of upcycling is the positive impact on the environment. Items destined for the dump are rescued and remade into something useful.
Also, upcycling is a way of life for people in developing countries. Raw materials are expensive so people use what they can find to create bowls, baskets, jewelry and other useful and beautiful items.
Upcycling Is Green
Plain and simple, upcycling makes a positive impact on the environment. When you upcycle, you remove items from the global garbage stream. Upcycling instead of recycling is good too; recycling requires energy or water to break down materials. Upcycling only requires your own creativity and elbow grease.
What Can I Upcycle?
Just about anything: Wine bottles, cans, newspapers, milk cartons, tires, suitcases, jeans, you name it. If you no longer have a use for it, upcycle it!
Get Started Today
There are two ways to support the upcycling movement. Sort through your closets or recycling bin and create items yourself or purchase ready-made items from upcycled materials. Both make a positive impact on the environment. Both reward you with something beautiful or useful.
Want it put another way? Check out our Pinterest board for some ideas.