Upcycle / Recycle / Green Projects

What Is Upcycling?

Last Updated on December 11, 2011 by Kristi Linauer

The Concept:

Are you familiar with the word “upcycling”?  It’s one of those words that gets lumped in with all of those other words like recycle, reuse, repurpose, etc.  So what does it mean, and how is it different?

According to Wikipedia, upcycling “is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or a higher environmental value.”

This concept is a bit different from the more familiar concept of recycling.  When we recycle a product, that product is reduced back down to its raw materials (plastic, paper, glass, etc.), and then re-used to manufacture other products made of those materials.



Chances are, whether you were familiar with the word or not, you’ve probably upcycled a few items yourself, meaning that you’ve taken something destined for the landfill, and you’ve given it a new and greater purpose.  Here are a few examples of some upcycling projects that I’ve done:

An outdated brass and glass chandelier shade, which was more assuredly headed for the garbage, was turned to a pretty candle holder

I took an old, rickety desk that the owner was throwing away, and I turned it into a pet station that includes a food bowl for my cats on top, a bed for my cats, a food bowl for my dog on bottom, a shared water bowl on bottom, a drawer to hold all of their stuff, like brushes, nail clippers, and leashes.

I took some cast off staircase spindles, whose better days were definitely behind them, and I turned them into candlesticks with a coastal feel.

I have a few more upcycling projects, but I think you get the idea, right?  And as you can see, this upcycling is also different from simply reusing an item.  If I find a dresser at Goodwill, repair it as needed, give it a fresh coat of paint, and put it in my bedroom to use as a dresser, that’s simply reusing the item (which is fantastic, and strongly encouraged by this blogger!), but it’s not exactly an example of upcycling.


The Challenge:

So why am I talking about upcycling?  Mostly because I love the concept of upcycling.  One of my favorite things to do is to browse the aisles of my local Habitat For Humanity ReStore, and look at all of the random items they have, and try to reimagine a purpose for them.  And the last time I was in there, which was about a week ago, I picked up these:

light covers

They’re just old glass light covers.  The big one was only $1, and the small one was $2 (which seemed a bit backwards to me).  I would imagine they were so cheap because they had so many of them, and they’re a bit outdated so there’s not really a huge demand for them.

Immediately when I saw them, I had an idea in my mind.  I knew exactly what I’m going to do with them, and it has nothing to do with lighting.  Nope, I’m going to upcycle them.  But in the week that these have been sitting on my table, waiting for their transformation, I’ve been trying to imagine other possibilities for them.  There would have to be hundreds of ways these could be upcycled, but sadly, I could only come up with a handful of ideas on my own.

So that gave me the idea of the upcycling challenge!

Starting new in 2012, I’m going to have either biweekly or monthly upcycling challenges, and there will be a specific theme for each one.  One month, the theme might be lighting components (the ones pictured above would fit into this category), the next month, the theme might be door knobs or other hardware.  I’m still brainstorming the details, but there will be fun interaction, voting, and prizes awarded.  And best of all, there will be (hopefully) lots and lots of fantastic ideas that we can be inspired by!!

So to get us into the “upcycling” frame of mind, for the remaining weeks in this year, I’m going to have a separate category on the Friday link parties that is specifically for upcycled projects, so be thinking about what upcycled projects you’ve done and can share!  They don’t even have to be recent projects, just as long as they’re upcycled.

Sound good?  I’m excited to see what you’ve done, and what fantastic ideas you’ll have in the new year!!

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  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Jill @ Junky Vagabond
    November 30, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Looking forward to seeing what everyone's got and maybe adding a few of my own ideas! I love upcycling 'junk'! -Jill

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    November 30, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    I love the cabinet with the cat dishes under it! Everything is beautiful! 🙂

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Vanessa R
    December 1, 2011 at 1:26 am

    That aounds good. One of my goals for 2012 is to be a little more green and upcycling stuff is at the top of my list. Can't wait to see what you create.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 1, 2011 at 1:52 am

    I love this idea….I'll "play"

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    December 1, 2011 at 2:37 am

    I love upcycling too. It's such a great term! I've sure those old lights will be good for something. They remind me of those great vintage milk glass jars that cold cream came in, though much bigger. 🙂 ~Pepper

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Miss Charming
    December 1, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Great idea!  (And I love your pet station, too.)

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    David Giammetta
    December 2, 2011 at 3:50 am

    It's great to see more people embracing upcycling!
    I have upcycled many items including a Vespa!
    Feel free to check it out http://reinventingwheels.blogspot.com/
    Keep up the good work, loving the blog!