Upcycling 101: What is Upcycling?

Upcycled insect hotel made from wood pallets
Upcycled insect hotel made from wood pallets


The upcycling trend has been steadily gaining popularity over the years, in part thanks to platforms like Pinterest and Etsy. With endless inspiration on blogs, TV shows, and YouTube, more and more people are experimenting with small DIY and upcycle projects by using materials they already have around the house. 

Upcycling is not only a great way to create one-of-a-kind art, home decor, and furniture, it’s also a sustainable and economically viable hobby that extends the lifespan of consumer goods and keeps waste out of landfills.

What is Upcycling?

Upcycling is the practice of reusing or repurposing discarded and unused objects into new products. Upcycled goods range from purely artistic expression to more pragmatic and useful pieces like furniture and storage solutions. 

Upcycling vs. Recycling

Although both upcycling and recycling share some common goals, like the effort to reduce and divert landfill waste, there are some key differences between the two concepts. 

Recycling is the practice of breaking down and reducing waste into its raw materials, which can then be repurposed into new consumer goods. Some examples of commonly recycled items include plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and glass, which are most often melted down and turned into new containers. 

More recently, companies especially in the clothing and fashion industries have gotten increasingly creative when it comes to creating new goods from recycled material. From puffer jackets made out of recycled fleece to athletic wear made from recycled plastic bottles.  

While Recycling breaks materials down, Upcycling looks to upgrade used, broken or worn-out goods into usable products and increase their value. With upcycling, things like paint cans, ice cream pails, and wine corks can be turned into anything from home decor to furniture. The transformation can be as simple as giving an old nightstand a fresh coat of paint and some new hardware, or as involved as building patio furniture from reclaimed wood pallets. 

Why do people upcycle?

The beauty of upcycling is that project inspiration is endless, and people upcycle for a wide variety of reasons. Some upcycle to reduce their environmental impact and reusing items that would otherwise end up in the landfill for their personal use. 

For others, upcycling serves as a creative outlet, and in some cases, might even be a source of income. More experienced craftspeople sell their wares online in marketplaces like Etsy, Kijiji, or Facebook. 

How does upcycling work?

There are numerous reasons why people upcycle, but beyond encouraging creativity and sustainability, there are countless ways that upcycling has a positive impact socially, economically, and environmentally. 

Social Benefits of Upcycling


Celebration of Craftsmanship

Whether you purchase an upcycled item or are a creator yourself, you can appreciate the time, care, and skill that goes into the upcycling process.   

Unique Items 

When you upcycle items yourself or purchase from a market or vendor, you can take pride knowing it’s one-of-kind.   

Economic Benefits of Upcycling


Reduced Manufacturing Costs

Utilizing reclaimed materials in the production of new goods significantly reduces manufacturing costs. 

Supporting Local

When you purchase an upcycled product you’re also supporting local business owners and artists, which directly impacts the local economy. Strong local economies have a deep-reaching impact, contributing to richer communities and future opportunities. 

Environmental Benefits of Upcycling

Keeping items out of landfills

Mass manufacturing has resulted in more consumer waste ending up in landfills. As buying habits change, items are viewed as more disposable and easy to replace. Upcycling helps curb this perception and diverts items once bound for the landfill, giving them a longer life cycle. 

Reduced use of natural resources

By reducing the number of new goods and raw materials produced, upcycling helps to reduce air and water pollution, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. 

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