You’re probably familiar with the concept of recycling, in which a product is broken down into its base materials and then remade into a new product, but how is that different from the growing popularity of ‘upcycling’?

Instead of breaking down a product into its components, upcycling simply refashions or reuses the original object in a new and innovative way that makes the object of equal or greater value than its original design.

Upcycling has become a creative way to challenge the “single-use mindset” that generates so much of our waste. For instance, instead of throwing out single-use plastics, some people have found innovative uses for them, such as fashioning boats or hanging planters from soda bottles, weaving plastic bags together to form rugsopens IMAGE file , and turning bottle caps into jewelryopens IMAGE file .

Upcycling keeps these traditionally single-use items out of landfills and gives them a second life.

Creative reuse doesn’t stop at single-use plastics. According to the EPA, 548 million tons of construction and demolition debris was generated in the United States in 2015—more than twice the amount of generated municipal solid waste. If you’re in the process of moving, renovating, or deconstructing, help keep these materials out of the landfill by upcycling them or donating them to CET’s reuse store, EcoBuilding Bargains.

Interested in giving it a try? Here are some tips to incorporate upcycling into your home!

Safety first!

When working with power tools or chemicals, you should always make sure that you are wearing the appropriate safety equipment, such as appropriate footwear, gloves, masks, goggles, aprons, or old clothing. Long hair should be tied back, and dangly jewelry or loose clothing that could get caught in machinery should be avoided. Don’t forget to make sure your workspace is well ventilated, particularly if you’re using chemical products such as paint or varnish.

Start with what you have.

The objective of upcycling is to find new uses for things you already own, so before you go out to the store to purchase more materials for your project, see if you can find items around your home that you can repurpose instead!

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Headboard upcycled into a bench

Rethink trash.

It’s easy to discount something as trash because it is old, worn, or broken, but before you throw it out think about how those objects could be given new life. Does it just need a new coat of paint? Could it be given a new purpose instead of thrown away?

Spruce it up.

Sometimes it only takes a few small touches to transform an old piece into something new. Consider changing the hardware on old cabinets and drawers or adding a fresh coat of paint to spruce up worn pieces.

Here’s a quick tip! When you’re painting, line your paint tray with tin foil; this makes it easy to clean up and means you can reuse your paint tray over and over again. It also helps to use a primer before painting furniture as this produces a better and longer-lasting finish.

EcoBuilding Bargains has a diverse collection of salvaged hardware that can give your projects a new look while also diverting building materials from the landfill! We also regularly stock 100% recycled paint from ReColor in a variety of colors and finishes, including chalk paint.

Have patience.

Upcycling can take more time than buying something new, but the payoff is worth it. Not only are you keeping materials out of the landfill, but you are also creating a unique piece with a personal touch that can serve as a focal piece for your home and has a great story.

Maybe you have a great idea for an upcycling project, but you don’t have the materials at home and don’t want to buy new. Be patient while you hunt through thrift stores, flee-markets, and reclaimed building materials stores like EcoBuilding Bargains. These places typically have donation-based or one-of-a-kind inventory that changes regularly, so you never know what you might find!

Share your upcycling story!

There is no better way to spark creativity than seeing it in others! Don’t forget to share your upcycling story to help others find the creative potential in their old items and empower them to choose to reuse. Every year the Center for EcoTechnology recognizes our Reuse Rockstars, customers who have found creative and innovative ways to upcycle materials purchased at EcoBuilding Bargains. This beautiful table is just one example of the amazing upcycling projects our Reuse Rockstars have created!


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Reclaimed wood and pallets upcycled into a coffee table

We also have a collection of customer stories that share the successes our customers have had incorporating reclaimed and salvaged materials into their homes and businesses. If you need inspiration, check out our customer stories to boost your creativity!

You can also find instructions for creative reuse projects on our blog— here are a few ideas to get you started:

Door Knob Picture Holder
Sink Planter
Wall Planter
Entryway Organizer
Upcycled Birdbath

Get creative and have fun upcycling!