Author: Ben Kassoy
Talk about a “happy accident”: the day I got fed up with my pens rolling off my desk was the same day I dropped and broke the handle off my favorite mug. I put the pens in the mug, put the mug on my desk, and boom – I’d found the perfect solution. Without knowing it, I’d also upcycled – inadvertently making an impact on the planet, right at home.
So, what is upcycling? Read on! We’ve got your answer to that, and four other questions, below.
1. So what exactly is upcycling?
Upcycling is making treasure out of trash
In other words, taking something that’s no longer being used, and giving it new life and new purpose. On the easy end of the spectrum, there’s my GENIUS broken-mug-as-pen-holder idea. On the other end, there’s turning a truck bed…into a real bed. And of course, there are all the upcycling ideas in between.
2. Ok gotcha. But how exactly is upcycling different from recycling?
Good question (if I do say so myself)! Both recycling and upcycling take old objects and make new ones. The difference is the process, not to mention the energy (and money) required. Recycling breaks down an item to its basic elements, then uses those elements to create a new object. It can be an expensive and time-consuming process that requires infrastructure, government dollars, and big ol’ garbage trucks. Meanwhile, instead of breaking down an object, upcycling, which you can do by yourself, right at home, alters or adds to objects to give them a new function.
3. Makes sense! Why should people upcycle?
Upcycling is a good idea because creating waste is a bad one. People in the U.S. produce three times as much garbage as the global average, ending up in landfills, which cause environmental harm and disproportionately affect the health of low-income neighborhoods, people of color, and Indigenous communities. Upcycling is an easy, accessible way to use and waste less. Plus(!), when you upcycle instead of buying, you save money, not to mention the raw materials and energy required for manufacturing and transporting new goods.
4. So, what kinds of things can you upcycle?
If you’ve got a little time and creativity, you can honestly upcycle…anything! Some of the most commonly upcycled materials include:
- Clothes and textiles
5. Got any good examples of upcycling?
Oh, for SURE. Here’s a big idea: using leftover wallpaper to zhush up your fridge! And here’s a small one: wine corks as (adorable!) mini seed planters. You can make a wreath out of seed packets, decorative flowers out of egg cartons and – heck – even a kitty bed out of an oil drum.