Upcycling etiquette

Upcycling can be a lovely way to spend your time.  It feels good to get a bit creative and find a new use for an item which is no longer needed in it’s current form.

Sustainable gift wrap course

I think though that a few things need to be taken into consideration before upcycling:

  1. Can the item be reused or repaired?  Often continuing to use something in the form it was intended to be used is the most eco-friendly as it involves the least interference and use of extra materials.  If you no longer want the item there are lots of options such as selling it or giving it away. 
  2. Although an upcycling project you have seen on the internet looks lovely, have you considered whether you have the relevant skills, equipment and need for whatever it is?
  3. What will happen to your upcycling creation once it is no longer needed?  Mixing plastic and glass to make a work of art might be great at the time, but separately they can be recycled – mixed/ stuck together they are most likely going to end up in landfill at some point…
  4. Are you hanging on to piles of stuff which although you would love to upcycle,  in reality are just cluttering up your home?   Unless you have lots of free time, are you really going to get round to making a greenhouse out of plastic bottles, or a pathway in your garden out of upside down bottles for example?  
  5. Upcycling might be a great short term solution to dealing with an item which is no longer wanted.  However if you are constantly accumulating items such as packaging or plastic bottles, rather than turning them into bespoke creations your time might be better spent researching alternative options which help you avoid those items coming into your home in the first place.  It might also be worth looking into ways of recycling things that your local council doesn’t routinely recycle.

When is it worth upcyling something?

  • When you can find a use for it / a home for it pretty quickly e.g. making fridge magnet notepads as pictured at the top of the article.
  • When you are unable to easily reuse, mend, recycle or give it away.  
  • When you have the time, energy, skills and inspiration for a larger upcycling project which is actually useful to you.  For example in our previous home we had some decking which we decided to replace with some new decking.  A friend took our old decking squares and amazingly made a fence around his front garden out of them.  It looked great – I wish I had taken some pictures of it!
  • When it has sentimental value  

Which upcycling projects have you undertaken and why?  I would love to hear your stories!


  1. Zoe

    Thanks for your comment Jen. I don't know if it is actually the case, but in my mind I have divided up reusing, upcycling and recycling in the following way – reusing is when you don't fundamentally change anything about the item. Upcycling is when the item is still recognisable but you have changed something fundamental about it so that it couldn't easily be used as what it was previously and recycling is when you completely destroy the original item and use the material for something 'new'.

  2. Hi there – visiting via the linkup on Reduce foot print.
    You have some good points bot about "hoarding" for future use and the virtue of continued use. I do however enjoy making "new" out of old clothes that are not suitable for hand e down or god will donations


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