Reduce, Reuse and Upcycle

I love the idea of upcycling – taking something destined for the trash or the recycling bin and refashioning, reshaping, reformatting, or re-engineering it into something even better than the original.

With upcycling, vintage suitcases become a quirky coffee table, broken pieces of an old CD become the iridescent border of
a picture frame, a worn sweatshirt becomes a new dog bed cover, half an old globe becomes a nifty bowl used as a table centerpiece. The ideas are endless. The Internet is full of people in a grassroots effort to repurpose everyday “trash” into items that can not only be used, but enjoyed.

For years we’ve been teaching our children reduce, reuse, and recycle, and while recycling is great, it still costs money and uses global resources. Unlike recycling, where products are broken down and used to make other items (which are often of lesser value), upcycling involves taking items as they are and finding unique and creative ways to give them new life and purpose.

Upcycling is not a new idea. People who grew up in the depression, a time when nothing was wasted, know all about upcycling. A worn dress might become an apron, that apron a handkerchief, and that handkerchief a quilt square made beautiful by time and skill. Upcycling is also not unique to the US. Walk through a Kenyan bazaar and you’ll see shoes made from tire rubber and children’s toys made from discarded pop cans and bottle caps. Belizeans make use of polished coconut shell and dried seeds to create jewelry. Necessity is the father of invention and people have always used the resources they have available, however limited or abundant they may be. But what’s driving the movement in the US isn’t necessarily necessity; rather it’s a matter of conscience for people worried about our conspicuous consumption of resources and looking for new ways to conserve and enjoy the things they have.

Charlotte Holder and her husband Ben recently upcycled a bargain they found at Goodwill. She says, “When I saw this dresser I knew I wanted turn it into our entertainment center, despite the fact that it was quite the eyesore with its yellowish/ pistachio color! It was just the right length and I loved that it had drawers to store things, but I also knew it had to function as a media center. We took out the right side drawers and added wood to the top of each section to make shelves. We bought two unfinished doors to cover the new shelves. Then
we sanded the piece back to its original wood surface, stained, and polyurethaned it. We finished the piece by adding hardware and drilling a hole in the back for the cables and cords to go through. With a little hard work, we turned an ugly $20 dresser into a beautifully restored media console!”

The best part is that you can upcycle just about anything. Old crates, tires, wooden pallets, glass bottles, clothing, and more can be used. The ideas are literally endless. All you need is a little ingenuity, a little elbow grease, and the desire to make our planet a little bit better place.