Upcycling is a great way to let your creativity flourish while living sustainably!  

Upcycling uses discarded or waste materials in the creation of something else of value. While recycling is a great option for materials that can be broken down and manufactured into new items, upcycling can eliminate the energy costs of manufacturing as well as provide another use for non-recyclable items.  

Candles made from jam jars, dish towels made from old T-shirts, and planters made from used bottles are just a few easy examples of what upcycling can look like. Bigger projects like couches made from wooden shipping palettes, sculptures made from bottle caps, and garden plots made from old dresser drawers are other ways to flex your creative muscles and give a second life to objects once considered trash. 

What is Upcycling? 

Upcycling is the creative reuse of discarded material to create something of value. 

You can create functional objects like planters, furniture, and clothes as well as art, crafts for kids, and decor from reused materials! 

Recycling vs. Upcycling 

Recycling is the process of breaking down used materials and manufacturing a new consumer good, while upcycling is the creative reuse of the materials in their current form. While recycling can help mitigate waste in landfills, it takes energy to manufacture the recycled goods, and not everything is recyclable. Upcycling an item avoids the energy costs of manufacturing, cuts back on waste, and can give a second life to non-recyclable materials.  

How do I start? 

It’s easy to get your start in upcycling! Look for single-use plastic items in your home like yogurt containers or glass jars from pasta sauce; plastic containers can be upcycled into planters for seedlings and glass jars made into candles to decorate your home. Other easy examples include using old t-shirt fabric as dish rags, painted plastic water bottles as a bowling game for kids, and aluminum cans as pen holders.  

Source secondhand materials  

Upcycling is a great way to save money through using materials you already have, but what if you need more tools to bring your upcycle dreams to life? Check out thrift stores or community nonprofits that sell secondhand materials like paint, glue, stamps, or other items you need to transform your trash into treasures.  

Big, Bold, and Creative 

The creative possibilities are endless with upcycling! From small projects like bottle planters to larger projects like furniture restoration or sculpture, upcycling is for people of all skill levels. A quick search on the internet, connecting with local artists, or brainstorming on your own are all ways to get inspired about upcycles you can make.   

 How to Make a Self-Watering Planter 

You need: A plastic water bottle, scissors, a sponge, potting soil, seeds/plant of your choice 

Step 1: Cut the bottle in half 

Step 2: Take off the label on the bottle and place the top side into the bottom (lid facing down, with bottle cap removed) 

Step 3: Stuff a bit of sponge into the lid. This will ensure that the water in the bottom of the bottle gets to the soil in the top as well as keeping the soil from falling out.  

Step 4: Add soil to the top of your new container and gently pack down. Fill the bottom section about ¾ full of water.  

Step 5: Plant your seeds! Water the top of the soil until lightly moist to get them started.

Information from Energy Systems Division Argonne National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Habitat for Humanity, Thistle Downs Farm, Apple and Eve, GreenMatters.com, and GreenLivingToolkit.org