Are you ready to upcycle? If you’re creative, thrifty and/or earth-conscious, the trend may inspire you. But keep in mind – this isn’t an entirely new practice. Folks who’ve had to get especially resourceful or do without certain things in life have long been masters at upcycling – whether they’re from developing countries or elders who survived the Depression years. So take a note from them and look around – you may find plenty of upcyclables nearby, just waiting for someone to have a burst of ingenuity
What is Upcycling?
Photo courtesy of homesogood.com
Upcycling isn’t the same as recycling. What’s the difference? While recycling is the process of breaking materials down to be remade into a new product, upcycling is the conversion of old materials into something new and attractive, possibly an item you’d wear, drink from, or display in your living room. For example, you might recycle a used plastic bag in order to make more plastic bags – but you might upcycle the same plastic bag by cutting it into strips and weaving a purse out of it. An old television could be stripped of its electronic components and recycled into new electronics, or it could be upcycled into an adorable pet bed instead. Still not clear? Hipcycle.com created a few great infographics to further explain the difference.
What can be upcycled?
How to turn old jewelry into amazing drawer pulls courtesy of www.lovelyetc.com
You can upcycle virtually anything from old tires to books to table legs – it just has to be converted in a unique way into something useful or decorative. (You’ll also want to make sure it’s sturdy enough or otherwise worth the work of upcycling it – i.e. you don’t want to spend 3 hours upcycling old picture frames so fragile that they fall apart when you nail them up.) When I ran out of storage space for my son’s old wagon, I converted it into a garden display, similar to this one, for instance. A neighbor friend of mine turned a set of old dresser drawers into window flower boxes,like this, while another acquaintance upcycled old buttons and jewelry to make new drawer knobs, and still another created a wine rack and serving center out of her old dresser like this. While many old household items are handy and fun to upcycle, some definitely work better than others. We’ve gathered up a few of the best ideas on the net to illustrate our favorites – so come on in and check them out – and the top 7 products that almost make it TOO easy to upcycle them!
Glass Jars and Bottles
I think glass is almost always pretty – especially some of those fancy little jelly jars they sell at the grocery stores – and what could be easier than keeping your used jars and bottles, removing the labels, and repurposing them into something purposely beautiful? The folks at HousefulOfHandmade.com would probably say, “Not much!” Whether it’s candle holders, lanterns, or vases you envision – or you just need more kitchen or bathroom storage, these DIY glass upcycling methods don’t miss!
You might need: If you don’t feel like making your own adhesive remover, get those stickers and labels off your glass easily with this non-toxic, eco-friendly Extreme Green GLUE REMOVER from Envirosafe Solutions – works in 3 minutes!
Image courtesy of http://housefulofhandmade.com
Old picture frames
From serving trays and side tables to photography backdrops and message boards, those old picture frames have numerous options for their second lives and need never see the likes of the landfill. Got an old window? You can do a lot of the same and more with those as well!
You might need: Environmentally-conscious artists will want to check out these eco-friendly paint kits for touching up their old frames and windows. Painting a larger area? Check out this guide to eco-friendly house paints for both interior and exterior surfaces – or look for the Green Seal on your paint container to guarantee the company’s dedication to green sustainability.
Upcycling a Window into a Coffee Table. Photo courtesy of www.upcyclethat.com/
Old t-shirts, hoodies, etc.
I know I hate it when a favorite t-shirt gets too old and starts ripping or coming apart. It hurts to toss or donate it since it’s become so well-loved, but something must be done. The feeling is apparently mutual with these innovative upcyclers – they’ve figured out how to turn beloved old tees and well-worn hoodies into pillows, and it’s even easier than you’d imagine! Some methods don’t even require sewing. Not into pillows but still want to upcycle old tees? Explore these ideas for inspiration!
You might need: Vaska Spot-Off Spray removes stains without harming fabrics, and is chlorine, NPE, and phosphate-free. Made with botanical surfactants, it’s both color safe and biodegradable – and super easy to use!
A fast and easy sewing project that anyone with beginner-level sewing skills can handle. Photo courtesy of www.diynetwork.com
Upcycled fire pits
The innovation here is rivaled by none. If you’ve got the proper space (and know-how) for a fire in your yard, give some of these ideas a gander. Old washing machine drums, grocery carts, tractor rims, grills, metal wash pails, and more can serve as the base of your new backyard fire pit!
You might need: Clean those old bottles out without leaving any toxic residue with ECOS Dishmate Dish Liquid. This product is hypoallergenic, vegan, and cleans with coconut-based surfactants, and you only need a little to wash a whole sink full of bottles! Get a pack of 2 for less than $7 on Amazon here.
Easy DIY and Child-Friendly Upcycle Project: Birdfeeder. Photo Courtesy of ThatsitLA.
Upcycle old doors
Doors can make a surprisingly fresh addition to almost any room – so take that old door from the attic and spruce it up to shabby chic! You can repurpose old doors into anything from a table to a headboard or a baby gate to a counter top – check out these ideas for inspiration.
You might need: Try an eco-friendly wood stripper like Citri-Strip for prepping your wood before painting. It may take a little longer to strip than the more toxic versions, but it has a pleasant orange smell, and your health, your family’s/pets’ health, and the environment will be better off with this choice. You can find it at Lowe’s, Meijer, Home Depot, Big R, True Value, and, of course, on Amazon – where it’s a #1 Best Seller right now!
Photo Courtesy of TotallytheBomb.com
Give new life to old books
If you’ve got so many books you can’t possibly donate or sell them all, check out some of these nifty ways to upcycle them – or watch Emma Petfield’s video creations here for inspiration! From picture frames to centerpieces, jewelry boxes to lanterns, old books are a treasure trove of upcycling ideas. With a little creativity and a couple of hours spare time, you’re sure to impress with your new upcycles.
You might need: To make Emma’s upcycled book page candle jars, try this eco-friendly Mod Podge replacement – EcoEpoxy by EarthSafe Finishes. Waterbased, made in the USA, and both VOC and BPA free, EcoEpoxy sells in 8 oz or 32 oz sizes on the company website here. Want to try out some similar earth-friendly upcycling supplies? Check out this list of sustainable and kid-friendly options.
A headboard made of books. Photo Courtesy of Brit.Co
Let us know about your upcycling projects and products you like
No matter which project you prefer, there’s something for everyone when it comes to upcycling. Some folks even make a whole business out of it! So get to brainstorming and plan the start date for your spring upcycling project – and let us know what you’re doing in the comments below! Are you using one of these ideas or have you got another project in mind? Did you use our suggested products or do you have others that you swear by that work better for you? Let us know – and Happy Creating!
KJ has written on numerous subjects including green energy, environmental
issues, culture, travel, history, and healthy living, as well as test prep content for educational sites. With degrees in sociology, psychology, and counseling, KJ has worked in her community in various positions throughout her career providing assistance both in the public school system and several mental health agencies. To read more of KJ's work, you may visit her author pages at Outward On here, Oh My Veggies here , and Healthy Tips here – or inquire within for more information. Thanks for reading!