February 2, 2023


Upcycling is the process of taking something old or used and transforming it into something more functional and of higher value. Learn more about this sustainable method of reducing waste.

What do we mean by upcycling

Upcycling is a form of creative use that entails transforming byproducts, wasted materials, and old or unwanted items into new products of greater value. The item or material takes on a second life with a new, more practical function. What would have been discarded or left unused is now serving a purpose. Upcycling is a critical method in the 'reuse, reduce, recycle' movement and is becoming increasingly popular worldwide. 

What are some upcycling examples?

  • Refashioning old clothing into new items, such as turning an old shirt into a pillow or quilt. 
  • Creating new furniture out of used pallets or other reclaimed wood. 
  • Turning old coffee cans into planters. 
  • Turning plastic bottles into bird feeders or plant holders. 
  • Transforming an old ladder into a bookshelf. 
  • Making jewellery out of old keys or buttons.

Upcycling fashion

Upcycling fashion is a common form of upcycling that uses pre-existing materials, such as thrifted clothing and unused clothes, to create new, unique fashion items. Upcycling fashion often uses creative techniques like sewing, weaving, and patchwork to repurpose materials and create new styles. Upcycling fashion is a sustainable approach to fashion that reduces waste and promotes creativity. Fashion upcycling is becoming increasingly popular for individuals and brands as people look to reduce the fashion industry's damaging environmental impact. Here are some examples of fashion upcycling:

  • Repurposing Old Denim Jeans 
  • Refashioning Vintage Clothing 
  • Making Bags from Old Belts and Scarves 
  • Customizing Used T-Shirts. 
  • Turning Old Jeans into Shorts 
  • Recycling Sweaters into Cardigans 
  • Upcycling Old Sarees into Skirts 
  • Turning Old Scarves into Headbands

Upcycling plastic

Plastic upcycling takes discarded or used items made from plastic and finds ways to reuse them or turn them into new products. Here are some examples of plastic upcycling 

  • Turning plastic bottles into vases or birdhouses
  • Recycling plastic packaging into valuable items like bowls, coasters, and trays
  • Crafting jewellery and decorative items from plastic lids and containers.

Upcycling furniture

Upcycling furniture is replacing old furniture with creative and practical solutions. This often involves restoring and repairing the furniture, painting it, adding new elements or adapting the design to give it a new purpose. Upcycling furniture is becoming increasingly popular for creating unique, stylish and sustainable furniture. Furniture can be sourced from vintage stores or old and outdated furniture in your own home. Another example would be to turn a wooden pallet into a coffee table. 

  • Reclaimed Wood Coffee Table: An old wood pallet can be transformed into a unique and stylish coffee table. 
  • Reclaimed Wood Desk: An old wood door can be transformed into a modern desk. 
  • Upcycled Chest of Drawers: An old chest of drawers can be painted and repaired to be transformed into a beautiful vanity. 
  • Vintage Bookshelf: An old ladder can be turned into a unique and stylish bookshelf. 
  • Upcycled Desk Chair: An old chair can be repurposed with new fabric and turned into a modern desk chair.

What is upcycling vs recycling 

Recycling involves breaking down materials into their component parts and then reusing those parts to create new materials and objects. It requires energy and resources to break down and process the materials. 

Upcycling involves taking something no longer useful and making it into something of more excellent value. It requires less energy and resources than traditional recycling since the materials are not broken down. Upcycling focuses on the creative reuse of materials and can be used to create one-of-a-kind items. 

Both recycling and upcycling result in less waste being sent to landfills and can help reduce the environmental impact of waste.

Are there any special skills required for upcycling? 

Yes, depending on the item you're upcycling, there are several skills you may need to know. Depending on the type of upcycling project, you may need to know basic sewing, painting, carpentry, and welding skills. You may also need to understand certain materials, such as wood, fabric, metal, or plastic, to choose suitable materials for your project. Additionally, you may need to do some research to find out how to best upcycle an item and how to make sure the result is safe and durable. But the most important thing is to be creative!

What kind of tools do I need for upcycling? 

The tools you need for upcycling depend on the project you are undertaking. Generally, you will need essential tools such as a drill, screwdriver, sewing machine, and any other tools specific to the project. Additionally, depending on the project, you may need supplies such as paint, glue, fabric, and other materials.

How do you upcycle for beginners?

  1. Start small and simple. Choose an item you can easily fix or repurpose. For example, you can start upcycling an old chair by painting it and adding new fabric. 
  2. Look for inspiration online. There are many great tutorials and ideas on Pinterest or other online resources. 
  3. Gather the materials you need. You must ensure you have all the supplies you need to complete the project. 
  4. Begin the upcycling process. Follow the tutorial or instructions as closely as possible to provide the best possible outcome. 
  5. Finish the project. Once you have completed the upcycling, you can enjoy your new creation!

What are the best items to upcycle

Clothing: Jeans, t-shirts, jackets, and sweaters are all great items to upcycle.

Furniture: Chairs, tables, cabinets, and dressers can all be given a new life with a little bit of creativity. 

Household items: Mason jars, old glassware, and books are all great items to upcycle. 

Electronics: Computers, televisions, and other electronic devices can all be repurposed into something completely new. 

Wood: Pallets, crates, and other wooden items can be turned into furniture or decorations.

What are the benefits of upcycling? 

Reduces waste: Upcycling minimises the amount of waste being sent to landfills, helping to reduce the environmental impact of disposable products. 

Creates unique items: Upcycling allows people to create special items that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. 

Creates a sense of satisfaction: Upcycling is a creative and enjoyable activity that can provide a sense of accomplishment and pride in the items you make. 

Saves money: Upcycling can be a great way to save money, as you can create something for a fraction of the cost of buying a new item. 

Supports sustainability: Upcycling helps reduce the demand for new products, helping to support a more sustainable lifestyle.

What is the problem with upcycling

The main problem with upcycling is that it can be challenging to find materials suitable for the process and the time and effort needed to turn the materials into something useful. Upcycling can be pretty challenging and require specialised tools and skills to complete the project.

Can upcycling be profitable? 

Yes, upcycling can be profitable. Upcycling can be a lucrative business with the right approach, skills, and strategy. Many individuals have created small businesses by upcycling jewellery, clothing and furniture. Steph from Debt Free Family makes around  £70/80 per item (approximately $120-$140NZD)!

What are some resources for learning more about upcycling?

Here are some sites that can provide inspiration and DIY guides on upcycling!

1. Upcycle That: https://upcyclethat.com/

2. The Upcycling Guide: https://www.theupcyclingguide.com/

3. Upcycle My Stuff: https://upcyclemystuff.com/

5. Upcycling Ideas: https://upcyclingideas.com/

6. DIY Network: https://www.diynetwork.com/how-to/make-and-decorate/upcycling

7. YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=upcycling

8. Pintrest: https://www.pinterest.nz/


Upcycling is a great way to reduce waste and create unique, one-of-a-kind items. There are many different types of upcycling, each with its own benefits and challenges. Many helpful resources are available to help you learn more about upcycling, and it can be a profitable venture. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced upcycler, upcycling is a great way to help the environment, be creative, and create something worthwhile.