You may have heard the term upcycling been throw around in the sustainability community but often people confuse its meaning. So let’s find out what upcycling is and how anyone can get started with this in their homes.
We live in a consumerist world where we always desire new things. But what’s fun about buying new things. Try to be different in a world where everyone tries to be the same.
Difference Between Upcycling And Recycling
Recycling is when something is taken, turned into the original materials/ fibers, and then turned into a new object. That’s what happens to everything that you throw in your recycling bin (if it can be recycled of course).
Recycling is not something that we as consumers can do because special machinery is required to turn the products into their original base materials.
Upcycling is quite different. You take things and change their purpose and use it for something else or turn them into a completely different object. You are giving it a second life and preventing it from ending up in landfills where it can never be used again.
So when you do need to buy something new, don’t throw the old one away. Maybe it’s too broken or old to do its original job, but it’s likely it will be able to do something else
So let’s put these two definitions into context. If a shirt is recycled, it would be turned back into the original fibers and then made into a new piece of garment. On the other hand, if you would upcycle it, you would cut it up either into strips or a pattern and sew it into something else.
Why is Upcycling Important?
While recycling is good, it’s not the best option because it requires large amounts of energy in some cases. In addition, not everything can be recycled since many of our products are made for the linear economy, not the circular one so they contain a mixture of materials that can not be separated. Essentially most things are made to be thrown away. Here is where upcycling comes in.
Some of the benefits that upcycling can have on you and on the planet are:
01. Saves Natural Resources
Upcycling means using what you already have instead of buying new stuff. Therefore you are saving the earth’s resources most of which are finite. Finite means once they run out, we won’t have access to any more of it. A good example is plastic as it derives from crude oil.
02. Reduces Carbon Dioxide Emissions
If upcycling becomes large scale, carbon dioxide could be cut down massively. This is for two reasons. Firstly, there would be less manufacturing of products and secondly, fewer materials would be mined while the rate of deforestation would decrease. All of which require energy.
03. Reduce Waste
Every time you upcycle something, you are preventing precious material from ending up in your bin and therefore in landfills. Nothing can really degrade in landfills because of the lack of oxygen so most things will stay there for hundreds and hundreds of years. Upcycling will get you a step closer to becoming zero waste.
04. Social Impact
By making your own stuff you stop supporting big money-driven corporations who are, most times, not doing any good for the planet. Workers are often exploited too. By reducing the demand for products, we could really make a difference. Everyone needs to start caring for the environment because, without it, we wouldn’t be here. We are completely dependent on it.
04. Be Unique
No one is going to have the same stuff as you. While everyone is currently shopping at the same 5 shops, and looking like each other, you will stand out with your unique fashion style and interior design. You will look at everything you made and feel proud because it was your own two hands that made it.
05. Save Money/ Make Money
By using what you already have rather than going out to buy new stuff, it saves you money. Or perhaps when you become really good, you could sell your creations online. Did you know there are already people out there making a living from doing this exact thing?
06. Learn A New Skill
Because of technology, we spend more time in front of our screens and less time being in the ‘real world’ and getting our hands dirty. We no longer go out and create, build, and invent. We’ve lost that.
Upcycling teaches you many different things. Each project requires a different set of skills so you never stop learning. It ranges from learning to paint to using tools and sewing.
07. Become More Creative
Upcycling forces you to be creative and connect ideas in a bizarre and unusual way. As children, we enjoyed being creative and coming up with new and crazy ideas but as we grow up that curiosity is sucked out of us because of society.
This doesn’t have to be the case. You can get that creativity back by working on it. Upcycling is just one of the many ways to express your creative spirit.
Related: 8 Reasons to Start Thrift Shopping
What Can I Upcycle?
First of all, if you are a beginner, start small. Don’t dive into the deep end because you will give up before you even start. Try to convert small items around your home that you don’t use or don’t want anymore. Here are some examples:
Do you know how to sew? Maybe it’s time to learn so we can make fashion more sustainable. You open so many opportunities when you learn this valuable skill. It allows you to make new clothes and turn old fabric into new items. You don’t need to make complicated garments from the start. Begin by making cushions and reusable grocery bags which are quite simple to make.
This will probably require more time and a bit more expertise. Generally, furniture is upcycled by painting it, changing its purpose, changing the knobs and if it’s completely broken then you can use the different parts to build a new piece of furniture.
From old plastic bottles to wine bottles, you can upcycle them in various ways. A common use for them is using them as flower holders.
Tins can be used to store literally anything including pens, tools, screws, etc. It’s easy to decorate them too. You can use old newspapers, card or even branches. Use what you have to create something unique.
Most of us have had a draw stuffed with old plastic bags. Now you can finally use them for something useful. You can use them to stuff pillows, make coasters, or simply use them to store stuff. Upcycling doesn’t have to be complicated. For more ideas on how to upcycle plastic bags have a look here.
We have way too much decor in our homes that are sitting there collecting dust and not serving any purpose. It’s time to turn them into something useful. While there’s nothing wrong with trying to make your home look nice, there’s a limit. There’s a point where decoration becomes clutter.
And a lot more
You can upcycle and repurpose nearly anything if you are creative. Paper, glass, metal, and plastic can all be reused and repurposed. Your opportunities are only limited by your creativity and imagination.
Inspiration To Get You Started
For even more ideas on upcycling visit these great blogs. They will give you the motivation and inspiration you need to start on this journey.
- Recyclart – If you want inspiration, Recyclart will give you plenty of creative examples. There’s also plenty of posts to read that were written by like-minded people.
- Upcycle That – This website gives plenty of ideas and guides to upcycle your own things, but you can also buy things other people have upcycled. How amazing is that?
- Lovely Etc – This blog gives you many easy DIY ideas that nearly anyone could do. Give it a go. She shares tips and unique ideas on how to improve your home.
The only downside is that it’s not always easy and straightforward. While some can be easily be done, other projects require more specialized skills and in some cases expensive equipment. But you can start small, and as you learn more, you’ll be able to upscale.
Right at the beginning, you might need to buy things like tools, paint, glue, etc but if as long as you use them to upcycle, it won’t be a waste of money (or resources).
Currently, there is no story behind what we buy. We go into a store and buy something like every other single person on the planet does. There’s nothing unique about that. But if you start upcycling, your home and style will be completely unique. People will ask you where you got your decor from and you could tell them the whole story behind what you made.
It makes you a more interesting person.
In the future, I hope to see not just more individuals upcycling, I would like to see companies upcycling materials to make new products too. If everyone starts embracing upcycling, it could do wonders for the world. Don’t underestimate it. Landfills are already reaching their limits and we are running out of space to put our rubbish in. Imagine, all of the things that are thrown away could have been used for something else and transformed into a new product.
Why buy new items when you could have fun making your own. It has more benefits than disadvantages, so give it a go. We need creative solutions to protect the planet and its resources and upcycling could play a big part if more people take part in it.