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Upcycling - What is it?

What is Upcycling? Definition, ideas, material and tips to make new from old

What is upcycling? And what can everything be upcycled? If these questions are on your mind right now, you've come to the right place! In our throwaway society, there seems to be no appreciation for natural resources something has been lost. Items are considered waste when they need to be repaired or simply when they are no longer needed. How wonderfully refreshing is a resource-saving movement that conjures up new, unique products from the seemingly unusable?

In this article I want to tell you more about upcycling - from the definition, materials and benefits, to great ideas for beginners and advanced. Let's go!

In advance here is already a short Overview for you:

Definition - What is Upcycling?

Upcycling definition - What is it?

Upcycling is understood to be a form of Recycling of materials according to the principle "from old to new", in which seemingly useless waste, beloved old things or things that no longer function are transformed into products of new value. Old objects are thus given a new value again.

The motivation to upcycle has been around longer than you might think. Basically, it's been around since people started building and making things. However, the term "upcycling" was first mentioned in the British magazine "Salvo" in 1994. Then, in recent years, it has become more and more popular, eventually becoming developed into a kind of movement has that wants to value natural raw materials and already produced items.

And how is it different from recycling? For example, when plastic bottles are recycled, they are crushed and then turned into something new. The material is thus damaged, so that the value and quality of the material shrinks. Upcycling, on the other hand, is about not damaging the material, so that it is not worse, but possibly even better, more beautiful and more useful than before the upcycling.

A counter design to the throwaway society

"More and more" - that is the motto of our increasingly absurd Disposable society. Advertising manipulates us into buying things we don't actually need. For example, a smartphone you buy today may feel completely outdated in a year's time, even though it's still perfectly functional. Many technical devices are even manufactured in such a way that they break faster than they should. Most people are not aware of this - or simply don't care.

So upcycling is, so to speak, a pleasantly sustainable counter-design to a consumer society in abundance.

Upcycling material - Which items are suitable?

Egg carton as upcycling material for golf balls

Upcycling is so versatile and creative that you can start an exciting project from almost anything. In general, however, there are materials that almost everyone has at home and from which great ideas can be put into action. Old T-shirts, pillow and comforter covers for example.

Particularly well suited as upcycling material are of course things such as packaging, which would otherwise fly in a high arc in the trash can. For example Egg cartons, cardboard or glass bottles. But I think the most beautiful materials are still those of beloved things that have grown close to your heart, but at some point simply pass away, like the old favorite sweater or the pallet table from your student apartment, which has given you years of faithful service.

In principle, however, almost everything can be upcycled - there are no limits to the imagination. The trick is to realize the potential of old objects.

The movement follows certain Principleswhich should make the material selection a bit more tangible:

  • Do not remove anything from an existing recycling loop (e.g. plastic bottle that is still usable should not be broken).
  • Do not upcycle as-new products (e.g. T-shirt that you bought just a few days ago, but you don't like it)
  • Do not buy additional products for upcycling (e.g. a shelf built from newly purchased wooden ladders trimmed to look old).

Tip: Especially with garments, upcycling and appreciation for material and people's labor is worthwhile. You can find out more about this at Fast Fashion and the sustainable counter design of the Slow Fashion.

Upcycling benefits - Why make new from old?

Sustainable wooden garden furniture

What motivates people to upcycle old things into something special? Here are some advantages clearly arranged:

  • Protect the environment: You show appreciation for natural resources, manufactured products, consumed water and emitted CO2 emissions in times of the Climate changeof plastic waste in the oceans, the Water shortage and the Deforestation of the rainforests. Resource conservation and waste avoidance are the driving forces behind the movement.
  • Encourage creativity: It's about trying new things and thinking outside the box. At the beginning, let yourself be guided by already existing ideas - your creativity will grow automatically.
  • Keep Beloved: Upcycling makes it possible, live more minimalist and to be able to continue to keep items that no longer function or are useful but still emotionally attached.
  • Save money: The goal is to avoid buying new things and to stop the consumerism. The logical consequence is that more cash stays in your wallet the more often you upcycle. In this way thus save money through sustainability.
  • Convince customers: For companies, too, upcycling offers opportunities to inspire sustainably minded customers. Wittekind upcycles old wood into cool seating furniture, for example.
  • Create unique: Through upcycling you suddenly get items that are completely unique. Absolute rarities that represent the total opposite of yawning-boring mass-produced goods.
  • Be a role model: With your appreciation for existing goods and natural resources, you are a role model for people from all generations - and can help shape the future positively and actively.

Simple upcycling ideas to help you get started

Upcycling vase for flowers

Now it's a little more practical! Maybe you're wondering what you can upcycle so much... here I would like to give you a little insight and some inspiration on the way with some ideas.

Upcycling ideas for beginners

How easy it is, even as an absolute beginner, to create something new with added value from old, now useless things, I would like to show you now with these examples.

Old wooden clothes hanger as jewelry holder

Do you also have a lot of loose jewelry lying around at home? Then how about a practical jewelry holder. An old wooden coat hanger can be easily recycled. Paint him clothes hanger in your favorite color and attach a few small hooks to it. That's it! The jewelry holder can then be attached to the door, a nail or a hook, for example.

Cardboard rolls as flower pot

No matter how much you already do without trash, toilet paper rolls can really be found in every household. Instead of throwing the paper rolls in the trash next time, just make a little flower pot out of them! These are perfect for growing seedlings.

You can simply fold the toilet roll at the end, fill it with soil and voilá - homemade flower pot for the seedling is ready. Since toilet paper rolls dissolve after some time, you can simply plant them in the garden together with the plant. This way you do without the plastic pot and give the disused toilet roll a second life.

Old bottles as vase

The next time you run out of a bottle of wine, save it. Well washed out and cleaned it is perfect, for example, as a vase for individual flowers, such as a rose. The super simple upcycling project makes a beautiful Decorative element and provides a real eye-catcher.


Do you still have a lot of empty jam jars lying around? Then how about the classic - a homemade lantern! Lanterns are especially nice on stormy rainy days that you spend indoors. With this little project, you can even upcycle several things at once.

For the upcycling lantern you basically only need:

  • An old small glass
  • An old book page, a piece of fabric or other decoration
  • One tea light
  • Scissors

Tip: At the end of the post, I've included a picture that should motivate you.

Reuse old sponge

Short times a piece of furniture crazy and bang - the beautiful laminate floor scratched. This happens to you guaranteed no more with this simple upcycling tip. Take an old sponge and cut it into individual small square pieces. This DIY Furniture Pads can now be glued under chairs and other furniture to protect the floor from scratches. Easy, right?

Shopping bag from old t-shirt

Why spend money unnecessarily on a shopping bag when you can make them from an old t-shirt in no time? You just need a ruler and scissors for cutting, in addition to your old T-shirt.

Here's how: First cut around the neckline of the T-shirt and remove the collar. Now follow the two sleeves, cut them at the seam. On the bottom part of the T-shirt now follow equal length cuts (about 10 centimeters long) with a distance of one centimeter. Continue until you reach the end of the T-shirt. Pull the resulting strips in length, so that they wear out a little. At the end you need to knot each of the two adjacent strips together. And voilà, your homemade shopping bag is ready. This is a great way to upcycle old T-shirts.from plastic bottle to sauce container

Newspaper garbage bags

With this great upcycling tip, you can not only recycle your old newsprint, but also get yourself plenty of trash bags from Plastic save! How exactly you need to fold the newspaper pages, so that it becomes a sustainable trash bag alternative you can find out under Fold garbage bag from newspaper.

Upcycling ideas for advanced

Upcycling bee hotel from wood and roof tiles

The upcycling ideas for beginners are not enough for you? No problem, here is more input for you and a little trickier project ideas for advanced and those who want to become one. 🙂

Bee hotel from old euro pallets

As you can see in the picture, old and in the best case just no longer functional Euro pallets the basis for a great insect hotel. In combination with a few old roof tiles, branches, pine cones and some other natural material, it's a great upcycling project for a really bee friendly garden.

"Attacked" guitar as a wall shelf

Old, broken guitars can be found more often than you might think at first. The once so beautiful, but perhaps somewhat damaged instruments lie around in many a cellar, for example. If the guitar is really no longer usable for playing (and even replacing the sides won't help) it can still be made into a nice wall shelf. For this you need:

  • Your old guitar
  • One wall mount
  • Boards
  • One saw
  • Hot glue gun
  • Sandpaper
  • Set square
  • Possibly a string of lights or similar decoration
  • Measuring tape

Here's how: First, carefully remove the strings. Now saw off the front of the guitar. You should then sand the edges smooth and clean them well. Now turn the guitar over and drill a hole in the guitar to hang it up later. Then measure the depth of the guitar, as well as the distance from one side to the other, in order to cut shelves based on the recorded measurements. How many boards your guitar shelf should have is up to you. You can now easily attach the boards with a hot glue gun and start decorating the "guitar".

Homemade teddy bear

I think a homemade teddy bear (or other stuffed animal) is a great gift for kids. A homemade cuddly toy has a very special value for most children. The DIY project can also be a fun afternoon activity for kids who are a little older. Either way, you need for the teddy:

  • Fabric (for example, an old sweater)
  • Template
  • Filler material
  • Yarn
  • Sewing needle or sewing machine
  • Possibly buttons

Here's how: Draw a template and cut it out. Now trace the pattern onto the fabric using a Frixion Color pen (which is particularly suitable for fabrics). Remember to add half a centimeter as a so-called seam allowance.

When all parts have been processed, turn the parts to the right side and stuff them with the filling material. A good tool for stuffing is a wooden spoon, by the way, because it protects the material. At the end only the face of the teddy is missing. This can either be embroidered completely, or decorated with small individual parts, such as two black buttons for the eyes of the teddy bear. Ready is the great, upcycled gift.

Notice: How you want to have the teddy is of course up to you. For sewing beginners, a plush animal pillow is also quite suitable. On the Internet you can find countless templates that you can print out.

From old oak planks becomes a unique dining table

Every now and then I see old piles of boards lying around in the villages - and often they even contain great, old Oak planks that can only use a new polish. I have on it for example my Dining table with industrial charm self-made. Finally, the wood was enough for coffee table, desk and two bedside tables.

Tip: At DIY Furniture Blog you can take a look at all the projects again at your leisure.

"Turn old into new" - so much more than just a trend!

Upcycling lantern from canning jar

As you can see, there are countless ways to turn old things or even trash into something brand new. But even beloved things like the old, washed-out favorite sweater get a new life thanks to upcycling. Many of the tips are so simple that anyone can do them, even if you don't have any great manual skills.

Protect the environment, save money, create something unique... what's wrong with that? It is definitely more than just a trend - a thoughtful movement with an eye for the special. I hope that I could make clear to you here and today what is behind the term "upcycling". Use the definition, ideas and tips to inspire others to do the same.

Do you have any questions or suggestions? Or can you think of more upcycling ideas? Then feel free to leave me a comment below this post.

Stay sustainable,

Christoph from CareElite - Plastic-free living

PS.: Upcycling is an important part of the Zero Waste Lifestylewhich consciously avoids waste. You can learn more about this - and all the important basic rules - in the linked article.

Coffee box Suggestions for improvement Newsletter

* Links with asterisks are so-called Affiliate links. If you click on it and buy something, you automatically and actively support my work with, because I get a small share of the sales revenue - and of course the product price does not change. Thank you for your support and best regards, Christoph!


Christoph Schulz

I'm Christoph, an environmental scientist and author - and here at CareElite I'm campaigning against plastic waste in the environment, climate change and all the other major environmental problems of our time. Together with other environmentally conscious bloggers, I want to give you tips & tricks for a naturally healthy, sustainable life as well as your personal development.

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