What is Upcycling?

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Upcycling at its core is creative reuse. It is an eco-friendly process of taking used or discarded items and transforming them into something of higher quality and value than the original item.

Upcycling has become increasingly popular in recent years as it helps to reduce waste, conserve resources and create unique products that can be used in interior design and fashion. It is also a great way to save money while being environmentally conscious.

What Kind of Items Can Be Upcycled? (Examples)

The upcycling process involves repurposing pretty much any materials such as:

  • fabric
  • wood
  • plastic
  • paper
  • metal
  • ceramic

This could be sourced from a very wide variety of products. Upcycled items often have unique designs that make them stand out from mass produced goods and can help to reduce material costs for the creator or designer.

Additionally, upcycling prevents harmful waste from going into landfills by reusing existing materials that would have otherwise been discarded.

Types of Upcycling

There are many types of activities that are considered to be upcycling. Upcycling can be extremely artistic, turning what would be trash into impressive décor or even functional items.

However, upcycling doesn’t have to be artistic necessarily. Just think creatively.

You can even upcycle food technically! We call these “cleanin’ out the fridge” meals. Take the food that would be discarded and turn it into something creative before it goes bad. I’ve personally made many stir fries with… interesting… ingredients that actually turned out great!

A few common upcycling categories would include:

Environmental Impact of Upcycling

Upcycling is a sustainable option for reducing our environmental footprint in carbon dioxide emissions, which play a major role in climate change. By refurbishing waste materials we can create sustainable solutions with a much lower environmental impact than traditional manufacturing processes.

Upcycling positively benefits our environment in several key ways:

  • Preventing goods that may have ended up in landfills from being discarded.
  • Preserving natural resources needed to make brand-new goods, such as metal, oil, and water.
  • Reducing greenhouse gases produced by trash decomposition or sometimes burning to reduce landfill size.
  • Promoting an exciting sustainable small industry and supporting those who upcycle products as a business.

By committing to sustainable upcycling practices, we can do our part to reduce our collective environmental impact.

It’s also just plain fun! You can create some truly remarkable and useful things. And for the more artsy side of upcycling – if that’s not your thing, maybe you can find someone who does as a hobby or small business and support them!

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Citations for This Article


Plonkey, Jim. (June 24, 2023). What is Upcycling?. Natural Replacements. Retrieved May 19, 2024, from https://naturalreplacements.com/learn/environment/upcycling/


Plonkey, Jim. "What is Upcycling?." Natural Replacements, https://naturalreplacements.com/learn/environment/upcycling/


Plonkey, Jim. "What is Upcycling?." Natural Replacements, Last modified June 24, 2023. https://naturalreplacements.com/learn/environment/upcycling/

Jim Plonkey

Jim Plonkey is a Co-founder of Natural Replacements. A digital marketing professional with a passion for sustainability, Jim lives in Southeast Michigan and enjoys traveling to new places, spending time outdoors - kayaking, hiking, and gardening, and yoga.

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