We are now starting to hear about the term “upcycling” on a more regular basis. You may be wondering what upcycling is all about – if it’s related to recycling or not. The answer is yes and no. Upcycling is related to waste management but the concepts and principles involved are quite the opposite to that of recycling.
We’ll talk about that as we go on.
There’s been a rise in recycling efforts in Australia in the past year. But such efforts are currently not enough. New waste management options and alternatives are still necessary to cope up with the huge volume of rubbish the country produces every year.
One waste management option is upcycling. Upcycling was first adopted in the US then the rest of the world followed, including Australia.
This article will guide you in understanding the concept of upcycling, the benefit it brings, and some surprising ways you can practice just by using common items you can find in your home.
Definition and History of Upcycling
The concept of upcycling was developed in 1994 as a response to the increasing volume of waste products and materials we produce. Instead of recycling, which was the “best practice” at that time, a new school of thought was suggested.
Upcycling is defined as the conversion of materials from one item into new items with different functions and uses. The concept does not only apply to waste management but also to resource circulation and waste reduction.
Upcycling or upsizing first appeared in 1998 in a book by author and economist Gunter Pauli. By 2002, various books and authors have strengthened the concept and principles around upcycling.
Benefits of Upcycling
There are a lot of benefits that we can get from practising upcycling. The values and benefits the practice of upcycling provides are just too many for us to deny. You can see on the list below that the benefits are spanning across various industries and disciplines.
Reducing the Volume of Rubbish that Goes to Landfills
About 40% of Australia’s waste goes straight to landfills. The sources from all landfill rubbish came are listed to be residential, commercial, industrial and demolition/construction waste. Moreover, the materials from these sources are usually non-biodegradable.
Non-biodegradable materials do not decompose and may contain toxic chemicals that seep through the soil and harm organic life.
Through the application of upcycling, a large portion of the country’s land area can be saved from soil degradation and can instead be used by other industries like agriculture and wildlife conservation.
Saving Materials from Directly Going to Waste
By upcycling, instead of just throwing rubbish straight into the bin, you can repurpose or reuse these items. Even large furniture can be repurposed. There’s no need to dispose of them just yet. This way, you can also implement zero-waste management in your office and in your home.
Minimise Use of Raw Natural Resources
The raw materials that we use in factories are finite. We don’t have an unlimited supply of these materials that takes months if not years to grow. Minerals and precious metals don’t just sprout from trees. They take hundreds of thousands of years for nature to produce them.
By upcycling, you can create new items from existing materials. That’s a huge help to natural resources conservation.
Moreover, you can increase an item’s value through upcycling. Just imagine those old empty plastic bottles lying around in your home. Did you know that you can create dozens of new items out of those bottles? You can convert those bottles into gorgeous lamps, brooms, and expensive-looking chandeliers.
A Great Way to Showcase Craftsmanship
Upcycling is a good way to develop and enhance your crafting skills. There’s no limit on the unique and artistic-yet-functional items that you can create from this method. It’s up to your imagination how you can give new life and function to those supposedly rubbish items.
This is also a great opportunity for those who want to be entrepreneurs. There are numerous small and medium scale upcycling businesses that are very successful today. You’ll be surprised how easy and fun it is to make money out of rubbish.
Contributes to Saving Mother Earth
Upcycling helps save the planet by minimising the destruction of our environment. Yes, we are still destroying the natural ecology of our planet by exposing it to unnatural chemicals.
Man-made chemicals and materials are detrimental to the environment. Plastic and other synthetic products, for example, cannot be found naturally in nature. This means that there is no way for nature to degrade or decompose such materials.
We can protect our planet by keeping the use and number of landfill areas to a minimum. Let’s allow Mother Earth to replenish its natural beauty by practising upcycling instead of throwing plastic and other man-made items into landfills.
This method also preserves the natural quality of the soil as well as the organic life in the designated landfill areas.
Examples of Items You Can Use in Upcycling
Would you believe that almost all items you have around you can be upcycled? As long as these items can be cleaned, you can convert rubbish into new and usable products.
So basically, all everyday items at home can be transformed into something useful.
Here are some examples where you can apply your creativity and create new awesome items:
- Metal and Tin Cans
- Old Furniture
- Scrap fabric and denim
- Garden waste
- Old clothing
- Blocks from demolition and renovation debris
Start checking the rubbish around you. You may discover some creative ways to reuse and create new items and new uses for them.
Remember: Your imagination is the limit when it comes to upcycling!
Common Household Items that Can be Upcycled
We understand that not everyone has the time to do upcycling activities. However, there are some upcycling activities that only take a few hours of your time. The items and materials you can use are also readily available in your home.
Here are examples of common household items that you can upcycle:
- Cans – Instead of throwing your opened cans into the trash, why not wrap or paint them. You can use them as pots for ornamental plants.
- Bricks – Do you have some hollow blocks, cinder blocks, or bricks lying around? You can scoop some soil and plant little succulents on them and voila! You now have a mini-garden.
- Old window frame – You can clean and repaint that old window frame. Attach a cork board at the back and you have an instant organiser at hand.
- Old mirrors – Do you have old mirrors you’re planning to dispose of? Think again. You just have to clean those mirrors, attack and repaint the frames and you’ll have a new centrepiece for your coffee table.
- Paint bucket – Once you’re done painting all those items and have empty paint buckets, it is time to work on them. Clean the paint buckets thoroughly, apply some artistic touch, and you’ll have new ice buckets for your parties.
The concept of upcycling encompasses benefits that are universal in nature. All environmentally concerned persons from all walks of life, industries, and corners of society can apply and constantly practise upcycling.
We’re not saying that upcycling is the only solution we have in order to save our planet or conserve the use of its natural resources. This is a smart option of rubbish management that brings a lot of benefits. We can use upcycling alongside all the other methods of waste management.
Instead of throwing your clutter and household rubbish straight into the bin and into landfills, upcycling is one option you should consider. It’s a great help to the environment. This is one avenue where you can showcase your creativity and art style. You can even increase the original value of those old items.
Last but not the least, upcycling can be a fun activity for the whole family to be involved with.