What is ‘upcycling’?

Upcycling,  to quote the wikipedia definition, is the “process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of  better quality or a higher environmental value”.  Or in the words of William McDonough and Michael Braungart, authors of ‘Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things”, it is the ‘practice of taking something that is disposable and transforming it into something of greater use and value.

So, you may be wondering, how is this any different from recycling?

Well, recycling tends to involve converting or extracting useful materials from a products, often  breaking down or destroying the product to produce another item or material in its place, for example an aluminium can is melted down to make other cans.  With upcycling on the other hand more value is placed on the old product, with something new being made out of it and ideally with little or no energy being used to create another item.  An example of this would be making a table out of an old piano, which my father did after the Second World War I found out recently!  Or using an old shirt or pullover to make a child’s skirt, or a rag rug or patchwork throw, or a pair of old jeans to make a bag.  In both these instances the amount of energy used is minimal and mainly of human form, with a few tools to help along the way.

Bag made from a pair of old jeans

Reusing materials already available can help to keep energy usage lower, as it reduces the consumption of new raw materials when creating new products,  although there may actually be cases where there is less benefit to the environment in upcycling if energy used to upcycle is more than recycling back to the same product, for example glass bottles which are crushed and refashioned into kitchen work tops.

I cut up old T-shirts to make cleaning cloths and for polishing shoes, save old grubby towels to use as ground sheets when painting and decorating, and I just love making and repairing things.  What do you do with your old bits and bobs?