What is Upcycling?
Upcycling is quite simply finding a new purpose for a disused item. It could be as simple as renovating a side-table rather than discarding it, or it could be as spectacular as reshaping a product to make it something wholly new and useful.
So what distinguishes upcycling from recycling? Recycling breaks a product down to its constituent parts (most commonly plastics, glass and metals) so they can be reformed into a new product. Upcycling keeps the materials as they are, though they might be reshaped them beyond (instant) recognition.
Why do it?
Well, same as recycling, one of the core reasons to upcycle is to reduce the need for sourcing new raw materials. Raw materials require energy to create or mine and process, and by locking them into one use, we remove the potential to use them for another, while leaving the same materials elsewhere locked in another state, not being used at all (whether it’s in your attic or in landfill).
It may be stating the obvious, but the earth’s resources are finite, so wherever we can re-use rather than discard material, the better off we all are.
Recycling has a huge role to play in that and some materials lend themselves to it well and over the last 30 years, some amazing technologies have been devised to make those processes more efficient and effective for a wider range of items.
However, recycling still requires not insignificant amounts of energy in collection, transportation and processing, and in some cases, it’s simply might not be financially or environmentally sound to break an item down.
And this is where upcycling comes in! Some energy is still needed to transport and transform the materials, but it cuts out most if not all of the processing energy and pollution that recycling can require. All by keeping the materials in their current form!
Salvaging bricks, tiles, beams and floorboards straight from a demolition site to a nearby new-build is happening more and more, often to beautiful effect.
Is this really a new fad?
Of course not!
History is littered with buildings cannibalised to make new buildings. Chunks of Colosseum turn up as bits of wall in late Roman villas and Renaissance sculpture. Bits of things have been attached to other things to make new, combined things!
People who don’t have the luxury to “just buy a new one” having been making do with whatever they’ve got for millennia, but it’s only in the last 20 years that we’ve started to see that as something other than an exercise in frugality; something to be quietly ashamed of. As if not having brand-spanking-new everything in your new house, somehow made it less new.
How do you start?
The guys over at Upcycle That break down the two ways: into either ‘Make That‘ or ‘Use That‘. That’s to say, they’ll either have a need for a particular item (i.e. Make That), or they’ll come across a nice disused item (i.e. Use That) and know that it deserves a new life in some updated form.
Start by looking around your home for those items you don’t use but can’t bring yourself to throwaway (we all have them!). Then think about the next items of furniture that you’d thought about “needing”. With a bit of creativity, is there any overlap? There may be no correlation right now, but over time, the more you think creatively about other ways you might be able to use the flotsam in your life, the more upcycling potential you’ll see around you.
Visiting your local flea markets and antiques fairs is another great way to get a headstart on upcycling. And….
Head on over to our Getting Started Guide to see just how easy it really can be!
And if you’re wondering, the feature image for this post is thanks to the amazing team over at Designlibero too! Be sure to check them out!