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What Is Upcycling? The What, Why, How, And More…!

WRITTEN by CHRISSY, LAST UPDATED ON April 17, 2022

& FILED IN Home Decluttering, Home Decor 


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If you’ve been hearing the term but wondering exactly what is upcycling, then you’re in the right place! Upcycling is the art of repurposing materials into something new and better. It can be anything from turning an old wooden dresser into something to match your current decor, to recycling rubber tyres into planters (yes, really!).

What Is Upcycling? The What, Why, How, And More...!

Upcycling is a great way to reduce waste and create beautiful pieces of art at the same time! In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss what upcycling is, the different types of upcycling, and give you some inspiration for how you can get started with your own upcycling projects.

Let’s go, shall we?…

What Is Upcycling?

The official dictionary definition of the word upcycle is:

“To make new furniture, objects, etc. out of old or used things or waste material”

Cambridge Dictionary Definition

Other words that could be used for upcycling include Reuse, Repurpose, Recreate, Revive, Remake, Refashion, and Rejuvenate (all ‘R’ words!).

Upcycling is a term used to describe the process of taking something that would be considered trash and repurposing it into something new and useful.

For example, with a little elbow grease and creativity, an old baked bean can could be a pen pot, or your old jeans could become your daughters new skirt…

Upcycling is not only good for the environment, but it can also save you money and help you get creative. There are endless possibilities when it comes to upcycling, let’s look next at the different types there are to try…

What Are Some Examples Of Upcycling?

Here are just a few of the ways that you could create new things from old by upcycling them. Why not use them as inspiration for your own projects.

There are so many ways you can upcycle – so get creative and see where it takes you…

#1 – Furniture Upcycling

Upcycled furniture is really popular at the moment, and its popularity shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Furniture upcycling involves taking an old / unwanted piece of furniture and giving it a new lease on life.

Wooden drawers made into planters outside

You could sand it, repaint it, reupholster it, and even add new hardware (I love to try new handles on chests of drawers, for example).

The sky’s completely the limit when it comes to creating new things from old – and you can often create something of a much higher quality as a result.

TIP – If you enjoy recycling furniture, it could be rewarding not only for the creative part of you, but also for your wallet. You can find lots of examples of people on places such as eBay, ETSY, and Facebook Marketplace who have purchased an old item and created a gorgeous (and saleable) upcycled item from it.

#2 – Clothes Upcycling

Upcycling clothes is another great way to reuse things that may otherwise just be heading for the recycling bin (and reducing textile waste).

This involves taking old clothes and turning them into something new from the discarded material.

Upcycled clothing can be made into loads of different items, including new clothes (upcycled fashion!), simple tote bags for shopping, upholstery, quilts/blankets etc..

Jeans pocket added to a tote bag as a pocket on that

You could also make a cushion from old jumpers / sweaters, and I’ve even seen fabric be used for gift wrap. the list truly is endless!

Lady wrapping presents with fabric as wrapping paper

#3 – Bottle Upcycling

Glass bottles can be reused in different ways:

Wine bottles can make great candle holders, and bottles can make great mini vases too.

Also don’t leave out the humble plastic bottle either…

They can be upcycled for gardening (using for planting seeds)

Plastic bottle made into a herb planter

…and even as a bird feeder – just for a couple of examples.

Plastic bottles upcycled into a bird feeder in a tree

#4 – Packaging & Cardboard Upcycling

I know in our home we get more than our fair share of parcels – especially with the advent of online shopping and popularity of Amazon.

One great way to make them into a new product is to use the smaller boxes as organisers. I like to cover them in sticky plastic or wrapping paper, and then use in my drawers to separate items.

Another brilliant way to upcycle and get the kids involved in a cheap and fun activity is to use old toilet rolls. There are lots of options, but I particularly like this idea of creating an Advent calendar.

toilet rolls made into a house shape to create an advent calendar

#5 – Jar And Can Upcycling

Metal cans can be upcycled into pen pots, plant pots etc…

Metal tin cans made into pen pots

Old jars (including candle jars) can be made into vases, new candles etc…

#6 – Paper Upcycling

Paper (wrapping paper, notepaper, newspaper etc…) can be upcycled in some really creative ways – and one very creative option would be to decoupage items in your house.

Decoupage is basically using small bits of paper and sticking them onto an item to create a new surface. It can look fantastic on cardboard boxes for storage in drawers, on the inside of actual drawers, or even covering the outside of a piece of furniture.

Glass bottle decoupaged with music paper

Another way that I love to do is with greetings cards. Simply cut out the nice pictures on the front of cards you get, and upcycle into gift tags for presents – easy and REALLY effective!

#7 – Wood Upcycling

I love using natural materials again and again – and wood is such a great raw material to get creative with.

Pallets are a fantastic upcyclable(if it’s not a word, it should be!) product that are really waste material to most people. I’ve seen them made into all manner of things from a bed base to outdoor seating.

The only thing stopping you is your imagination!

Wooden pallets made into a sofa with cushions on

How To Get Started With Your Own Upcycling Projects

The best way to get started with upcycling is to start small.

Pick a project that you think you can handle, such as repainting an old dresser, sewing an easy shopping bag from an old shirt, or using a few random unwanted items to practise on and see what you can make from them.

You’ll be able to create a unique piece from an old product that you can be really proud of, and once you finish your first project, you’ll be hooked!

Wheelbarrow turned on its side and made into a seat

What Are Some Of The Benefits Of Upcycling?

It’s all very well and good looking at the WHAT of upcycling, but now it’s time to get the motivation to do it – and that’s where the WHY comes into play!

Here’s a rundown of all the positive things that upcycling can give you…

#1 – Environmental Benefits

When it comes to reducing landfill waste (and any other forms of waste), recycling is usually the first thing that comes to mind.

However, upcycling can also be an environmentally friendly choice. By repurposing a discarded object, you can help to reduce the amount of waste that ends up at the tip.

Upcycling can also help to save resources, since it takes less energy and materials to repurpose an item than it does to create a new one from scratch.

#2 – Financial Benefits

On top of all the eco-conscious benefits, upcycling is another great option for giving new life to old items.

It can save you money as you can often make new items that are much more appealing to you than bought items. They can be unique to you and exactly what you want for a specific room/use.

Paper cups made into herb planters

#3 – Mental Health Benefits

Upcyling can also help your mental heath as it provides a fantastic creative outlet for you – and you can really be yourself and put your own personality into each creation.

#4 – Socialising Benefits

Upcycling stuff you don’t otherwise want anymore can also be a fun activity to do with friends or family.

Getting everyone involved can be a fantastic way to spend a day, and can be a relatively inexpensive activity for a few of you to get stuck into.

Black boots made into herb planters

Where Can You Find Things To Upcycle?

You don’t have to just use items of your own that you don’t want any longer.

In fact – going out and about and creating new things from other peoples old stuff can reap even more rewards for you and the environment.

Here are some places to look for new upcycling projects:

  • The local tip / rubbish dump
  • Charity shops
  • Things people put out on the street (just ensure they really are for you to take away, of course!, but most people love the fact that they can get rid of it with very little hassle this way)
  • Freecycle
  • Facebook local groups
  • Second hand shops
Bicycles made into planters outside

What Can You Turn Into Something New And Better?

There are endless possibilities when it comes to upcycling.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Old clothes can be cut up and used to create bags, patchwork quilts etc…
  • An old pair of jeans can be cut up and made into shorts or a skirt.
adult jeans cut up to make small jeans skirt
  • An old coffee table can be upcycled into a bench.
  • A dresser can be repainted to match your rooms colour scheme (I’ve done this with great success and saved a few hundred pounds in the process – a win-win!)
  • Metal cans can be recycled into pen pots or other organising storage
  • Tyres can become planters for your garden
Car tyres painted in pastel shades and used as planters outside
  • Paper can be turned into new notebooks or journals.
  • Wood can be upcycled into new furniture or home decor.

What Can’t Be Turned Into Something New?

While upcycling is a great way to repurpose old items, and most things can get a new lease of life, not everything can be.

As such, it’s worth thinking carefully about what you want to reuse, and whether it’s really a good idea.

Things that you may want to side-step include:

  • Disposable nappies
  • Petrol or oil
  • Light bulbs
  • Batteries
  • Electrical items – be careful in creating new stuff with anything involving electrics – for obvious reasons!

Honestly, once you’re finished with these items, the best thing to do is recycle them or throw them away if that’s the only option.

What Is Upcycling? The What, Why, How, And More...!

So there you have it – everything you need to know about upcycling!

I hope this guide has inspired you to start your own upcycling projects. Remember, start small and have fun!

Happy upcycling!

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