Value-added recycling

National Recycle Week – Day 3

Today is National Upcycling Day!

Actually, I was a bit confused about what counts as ‘upcycling’ so I decided to find a definition. The Oxford Dictionaries web site defines upcycling as follows:

Reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original

Well of course, once you start talking about increasing value, you have to consider what your definition of value is. For me, any re-used or repaired object that was going to enter the waste stream has had its value increased by being rescued from this fate. However, upcycling carries the suggestion of making something more fancy or using it for something other than its original purpose. This means that my repeated repairs of slippers, socks and clothes in general are not really upcycling.

Mr Snail’s gate from a pallet

So, I’m beginning to wonder if I have anything that I could really describe as ‘upcycled’. I suppose that Mr Snail’s palletgate is an example of upcycling, because he actually modified something (a pallet) to turn it into something different (a gate). I’m also using frogged (unravelled) and washed yarn for some of my knitting projects (bath puffs and hexi-puffs for my beekeeper’s quilt). But mostly, we don’t do this sort of thing. We do repair like mad, which means that most things around the house are still being used for their original purpose – often long after most people would have thrown them away.

So, whilst I salute all you upcyclers out there, I have to confess that I’m not very good at it. What about everybody else? Do you upcycle? Have you made glorious objects out of discarded items?

If you want to see some great examples of upcycling check out Remade in Britain – it’s a shop, but there’s lots of inspiration too, in fact they have an A-Z of upcycling here. Also today on Twitter Jen @makeandmendyear is doing an A to Z of upcycling techniques, with links to tutorials, which is fun.

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  1. I’m planning a quilt for the Husband, made from his worn-out work clothes which are beyond repair. Something useful and hopefully attractive, made from resources which would otherwise be thrown away. The quilt will then go into the sleeper unit of his truck to keep him warm and comfortable when he needs to take a sleep. I think that qualifies as upcycling…

  2. Quilts made from scraps–that’s a good example of traditional “upcycling”! In general, though, upcycling seems to be the trend of the moment.

  3. I suppose the best I do is dismantling all the pretty bits from packaging to make cards. Mr E is an engineer by profession and nature, watching him clean the pond yesterday was a treat, involving old net curtains discarded when we moved here, left by the previous owners, a long handled grabber from my Dads, several buckets a length some wire mesh etc etc, not beautiful but very effective.

  4. My concern in general with upcycling is that you really have to be careful about materials you’re reusing. For example, you don’t want to grow edibles in containers that used to hold substances that could leach into food, say, painted wood that contains lead or tires that contain all kinds of stuff. If you don’t know the history of the item, it can be tricky to reuse, even if you’re not using it for food, too. Otherwise, upcycling can be another useful tool in our sustainability toolbox! Thx for the nudge in the right direction today!!! 🙂

    • You are right about understanding the nature of objects before making use of them in a different context. I seem to recall reading something about containers for storing food in this context and a warning to make sure you are using food-grade plastics.

  5. I’ve used an old frame and a bit of old window screen to make a hanging earring holder. I hadn’t thought of it as upcycling.

  6. Love that pallet gate, what a great idea!

  7. As well as patchwork quilts from old clothes, bed linen, towels and curtains (my neighbour has 5 children so can supply loads of materials!) I make shopping bags (old curtains are good for these and they are really simple to make), handbags, peg loom rugs, ‘proddy’ rugs and have cut Tshirts into strips which I then crocheted into a rug. I am not sure these are more valuable in the monetary sense but …..

    I also use bits of old waste pipe cut into lengths and arranged in a mushroom punnet with holes in the bottom as seed sowing modules. That is more plastic saved from landfill and re-used until they disintegrate.

    Shredded paper makes a good garden mulch whilst newspaper and cardboard suppress weeds well over larger areas.

    You may have gathered that I am seriously frugal! Bordering on mean!

    • I have to confess that I’m sill not sure about ‘upcycling’… it’s all reuse and repurposing to me! You don’t sound mean to me… you sound sensible. I too use lots of cardboard and paper (shredded and otherwise) in the garden… if not needed elsewhere, it goes in the compost.

  8. We upcycle things all of the time here but mostly because we can’t afford the original and have to think up incredibly ingenious ideas for how to “get” the unaffordable that involve sticks and string and glue (nod to Mr Snail and palletgate here and his newly mended radio). I took a large old weathered leather jacket that my daughter was going to throw out and turned it into a cover for a library book that Earl ate the spine of (still shuddering at the thought…) and covering for a nasty paint stained vinyl stool that now lives in the kitchen and is my derrieres best bud. The best place to learn to upcycle like a boss is “Instructables”. There are some SERIOUSLY amazing upcycles and builds there.

    • I’m always rather overwhelmed by instructables… there are such skilled people out there.
      I like your leather jacket story… now that really is good use of an item that appeared to have reached the end of its life… and any left-overs you could give to Earl to eat!!

  9. I like to think that my mittens project from a few months ago – and which I am still churning out examples of – is upcycling. I think I called it so at the time. I gathered up some dozen or so plain black mittens heading for the landfill and fancied them up at considerable time expense using left over yarn. I often fancy up empty tins and strong packaging to become holders for bits and bobs for myself, family members and friends – I wonder if that could be considered ‘upcycling’?

    • I suppose that all those things are upcycling… I had temporarily forgotten about your lovely mitten project. Really I think it’s just a trendy word for what lots of us do anyway without really thinking about it. As someone who finds it difficult to throw anything away, I have to justify this by finding other uses for the stuff I collect… although I am finding my current clearing out of my office quite invigorating.

  10. There’s a term historic preservationists use called “adaptive re-use.” It takes an old building and remodels it for some purpose other than what it was intended originally. Unless you’re making quilts, or Pauline’s lovely fingerless gloves, it’s hard to meet up cycling. Adaptive re-use seems to fit better with the reduce, re-use, recycle philosophy. Not to worry…

  11. “Well of course, once you start talking about increasing value, you have to consider what your definition of value is” This sentance is indeed the key. Although repaired items could be argued their original value has not increased it becomes subjective as to ‘what is value?”. My very loved objects have increased in value (to myself) after I mended them. Regardless of the human thoughts we put on our mended items, Mother Earth see’s it as upcycling and she is totally objective and thankful for our efforts. ❤

    • I agree, our much loved and much repaired possessions have become so much more than they originally were. It is a matter of pride now to Mr Snail to keep the wind-up radio going, and I suspect that eventually it’s going to be like ‘the axe of my grandfather’:
      “This, milord, is my family’s axe. We have owned it for almost nine hundred years, see. Of course, sometimes it needed a new blade. And sometimes it has required a new handle, new designs on the metalwork, a little refreshing of the ornamentation . . . but is this not the nine hundred-year-old axe of my family? And because it has changed gently over time, it is still a pretty good axe, y’know. Pretty good.” Terry Pratchett

  12. I’m not a quilter, but I’ve always loved the idea of reusing scraps for a greater whole. We recently sent my sisters beloved t shirt collection to Campus Quilts. Her MS means she is always cold, so now she has a warm quilt full of wonderful memories. I blogged about it here:

    I also used the rock paper wrapper from a plant to cover clay pots in my kitchen window. It was so much fun:

    And here is one last one. I used my father’s beloved postage stamp collection and made a table for our living room:

    • I love all those ideas and, in fact , I thought about your stamp table (and Pauline’s use of some of your stamps) when I was writing the post.
      Mr Snail has lots of t-shirts that are wearing at the edges and so I wonder whether I can find a similar quilt company in the UK… there’s something to research for his birthday 🙂

  13. I made my last husband a quilt from his old jeans and some flannel. I even saved pockets to put on the quilt. But that’s the extent of my up cycling other than to use old buttons and jewelry for art projects. I admire people who can do it well. I also admire those that keep so much out of landfills. I know people who take vintage linens and turn them int wonderful things. Always astounded at how creative minds can be. Great subject.


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