Recycling has been around for decades. But have you heard of upcycling? Learn how this practice turns everyday items headed for the trash into something special.
Upcycling means a new and better life
Recycling breaks down items such as aluminum cans and plastic bottles into their component parts and reconstitutes them into new, sometimes lower-quality products. Upcycling, on the other hand, takes old products and gives them a new lease on life. Upcycled products aren’t broken down but are instead given a new use. In each case, the original product is still recognizable but is creatively repurposed for a new, attractive function.
A popular example of upcycling is the use of old barn wood in home design. Reclaimed wood has become a red-hot commodity for wall coverings, furniture, and myriad other uses. Other examples of upcycling are using an old door as a table top or converting old street signs into end tables or chairs. Upcyclers convert old tea kettles into flower pots, discarded CDs into coasters, used books into flowers or wreaths, and shredded T-shirts and jeans into area rugs.
Recycling breaks down old products
By contrast, a defining characteristic of recycling is that the original material is broken down and then refashioned entirely. The aluminum cans, paper and plastic bottles you carry to the curb each week are reconstituted into similar products. Sometimes these products are of lower quality than the original. In other cases, the products become something entirely new, as when tire rubber is ground up and made into soft playground mulch for romping kids or a quieter road base for highways. Recycling requires energy and water and creates products that may eventually end up in the garbage stream.
What’s old is new again
Upcycling is nothing new for older generations who lived during difficult economic times or grew up in poor areas. In earlier days, old items were repurposed into new uses out of necessity. Today’s upcyclers are motivated by an earth-friendly desire to preserve resources and the environment as well as their own creativity.
A rich source of ideas
Search the term “upcycle” online, and you’ll find a treasure trove of books, articles, videos and Pinterest pages devoted to converting the mundane into the marvelous. You may even come up with clever new uses on your own.