Six Creative Upcycling Projects

Editor’s note: Students — please feel free to use the information here. Just make sure to credit it appropriately (with a link if possible)… including credit to the owners of the images.

Upcycling, a phrase coined by Cradle to Cradle authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart, is the act of creating useful products from waste materials.  You’ve probably seen several upcycled products on the market today–reusable bags are often made from old plastic bags, t-shirts, or other upcycled materialsTerraCycle is now upcycling many products, including juice pouches and cookie wrappers.  Among design junkies, craftsters, and green folks, upcycling is the latest challenge to combat climate change.  My only gripe is I keep seeing the same upcycling ideas–the aforementioned reusable bags, the old t-shirt revamp–and they’ve been done.  Fortunately, places like Ready Made Magazine and Instructables continue to facilitate new upcycled products.  Here are six creative, practical upcycling projects that, with a little time and skill, you can do at home.

  1. At Instructables, bike enthusiasts can turn old innertubes into new wallets.
  2. Ready Made turns old pallets into functional lawn furniture.
  3. This seems like it will be a timely project in a few months: chairs made from campaign signs.
  4. Green Upgrader has stylish light fixtures made from stuff from a basement:
  5. I’m all about making these leather cuff bracelets from old belts.
  6. CraftStylish has mini-journals made from old boxes and magazines.

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About the Author

  • I’ve seen some beautiful ceilings done with old pallets. Looks rustic.

  • Great ideas. I think I have a few old belts that I could make into bracelets.

  • Great post! Thanks for the tips and the links!
    Cradle to Cradle is one of my favorite books!

  • emily

    I know a guy who made his studio out of pallets and the old bleachers from a high school. We have offices in old trailers and classrooms in old buses. does that count or is that just repurposing? is it the same thing? I call my juicebox purse repurposed.

  • Emily–I think that’s all upcycling. I think the terms are interchangable.

  • CP

    I don’t want to be a wet blanket, but the concept of upcycling is one that is so important to re-conceiving how we design our world that I had to comment on the above items.

    The items above are actually examples of downcycling and are what the Cradle to Cradle authors were criticizing as one of the weaknesses that is inherent in most of the environmental movement’s “Eco-efficient” guidance. To explain briefly, each of the items is a reduced and restricted form of the material’s ‘former self’. After each item wears out (which they will eventually!), it will then be passed on to either an ecologically expensive process (usually toxic and requiring consumption of further materials) to continue downcycling the item for reuse, or it will be disposed of. Since most of the items above contain toxins of some sort, the ultimate disposal is of further detriment to the earth.

    If the items above were upcycled, the components would be broken down safely and cleanly, and the materials returned as industrial or natural nutrients into either an ecological or industrial system for near total reuse. They Cradle to Cradle authors have the motto “waste equals food” which I think says it all. With the exception of solar energy (it’s free!), this is how nature has handled all earth-bound materials for the life of our planet. We can only help to emulate the beautiful design patterns that have been given to us.

    Don’t get me wrong, it is GREAT to try and get as much use out of the damaged goods that the industrial machine has handed us. The sad reality though is that they are constructed in a way to PREVENT upcycling. The better goal is to seek out and support processes and materials that not only sustain, but replenish both ecological and human constructed systems through the use of non-toxic, upcyclable, and nutritious materials.


  • there is a great revolution happening on etsy right now. people are making accessories out of plastic trash! check out lou’s upcycles..

  • What I have just learned from a documentary on the Knowledge network is that upcycling is NOT about making a quilt from cloth. It is about adding elements such as nitrogen to a product to help it break down. The materials that comprise a product should actually make the work a better place. According to Wikipedia, “It is generally a reinvestment in the environment. “Upcycling is the practice of taking something that is disposable and transforming it into something of greater use and value.”[citation needed] This process allows for the reduction of waste and use of virgin materials.”

    The end product should basically disappear and have a sum total impact of improving the earth.

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  • Hi there,

    A group of trainers in Europe have been leading a number of international workshops on Upcycling. They have created a website, also a blog- with some ideas and stories and info – and we thought it might be great to connect the two sites with a link. Wonderful that the word is spreading – let’s spread it more!



  • This is an excellent post. It is really going to make me look harder at how I can upcycle (what I normally call re-purposing) items. I love that leather cuff bracelet. These are very creative and inspiring.

  • The lawn furniture looks great! My mom is remodeling our garden and I think she would love those. I know someone who could turn his old belts into interesting cuffs — he’s been wondering what to do with them! as for me, I think I could definitely use some of those mini journals…any instructions on how to make them yourself? There’s plenty of boxes and magazines here at home waiting to be recycled.

  • tiff

    Hi there… this idea is call Re-Purposing….You are taking the materials and simply changing their appearance, not t heir molecular structure. This is still WAY awesome and is done in my home! We make t shirt yarn and “frog” old sweaters to reclaim their yarn to create “new” items. The material is not new, simply changed from a sweater into a ball of yarn to be used again. This is neat! Keep up the good work, but your editor should have researched the terminology better!

  • hop

    Well said tiff. I am increasinly disappointed by the lack of upcycling solutions. These are just temporary solutions, prolonging their life, before eventually still falling to land-fill.

  • no offense but you people are the poorest sadest people on earth. you cant afford real things you have to create stuff out of ur crap. your defecting the economy, just buy them from the corner store you sad sad people.

  • devyn emmerson-ducasse


  • djaque

    I think arjun’s backyard should be the next waste disposal site.

  • RandomPerson

    OMG, arjun’s website is! How neat! -_-“

  • RandomPerson

    Oh, yeah, and I agree with djaque 😀

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  • Leila Jahic

    To whom this may concern,

    My ICT GCSE coursework concerns Upcycling. I must put together a profile of possible Upcycling demos, fundraising activities, refreshments for the event

    With your permission, I would appreciate being able to use the image of the mini-journals in my project. It is for coursework purposes only and therefore will not actually be used in an real Upcycling event. Generally the only observers of my work will be my teacher and an examiner.

    If you are able to respond to my request quickly I would be very grateful. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Yours sincerely/faithfully,
    Leila Jahic

  • Leila–

    That’s not our photo, so we couldn’t give you permission to use it. Click through on the link, and you should find the owner of the image.

  • Despite a few comments that have attempted to correct the editors misuse of the word upcycle I’m going to assume by the lack of response and nature links related to this post that the term has been permanently “borrowed” to mean something completely different than what it was created to explain. re-purposing, adaptive reuse, even dare I say recycling are all more appropriate descriptors of what’s going on with the great products listed in this post. For those of us working in sustainability, the definition of terms across industries is an especially challenging aspect of the movement. I think there’s a misunderstanding of the word “value” as it relates to upcycling. It’s not the difference in “personal” or emotional value between trash and something cool that you make out of it, it relates rather to the material itself and it’s potential for replacing the extraction and production of the same virgin material. For a simple visualization of upcycling check out this fine graphic from another blog – progressivetimes

  • Deniz Dolunay

    Hi i am a student at St.Marylebone school and i was wondering if i could the information on your website for research on Upcycling. It will only be seen by myself, my teacher and the examinors and will be used for my GCSE coursework only.

  • @Deniz — Certainly you may… best of luck!

  • Rickey Anderson

    Heey just want to say I want your…………………..

  • Elz coyle

    i must say it is very intersting reading what all of you have put , i am also doing ict gcse which includes upcycling , pmsl at ‘random person’ and i agree with djaque xx love elsbeth coyle <3 😀 =]

  • anika

    dear sir/madam
    I am a yr 10 student doing my ict gsce and as apart of our coursework we need to research on upcycling demonstrations and would like your permission if i could use one of demos above as they are very creative,easy and will be very much appreciated .

  • anika

    also,it will only be seen by teacher and examinor and will not be in a real upcycling event .

  • dear sir/madam i am a student at lakers secondary school and am doin my ict gcse work on upcycling and was wondering if i could use one of your images for my coursework.

    Thank you

  • James

    Dear Sir or Madam,
    I am a year 10 student, I am currently completing my ICT GCSE. I would like to use the image and some of your information on Upcycling for the purpose of education and would like permission to use your data.

  • Chelsea Hickey


    I’m doing GCSE ICT this year, and our coursework is based on upcycling. However i would love to use your images on your website but… to prevent copyright from happening we have to gain permission from the image owner. So if possible would you be able to grant me permission to use your images. Thank you.

    Chelsea Hickey x

  • hello all,

    i recently posted a few examples of upcycling on my blog. they’re inspirational -type examples, not something anybody could do but might inspire us to think about what we could do.


  • ryan leeks

    hello can i youse some imiges of this website for my gcse ict asessment

  • Emilio

    Dear sir/mdme

    I am 14 year students, which im currently doing my IGCSE ICT exam, and my topic is based on upcyling and recycling. It would be a grate pleasure to use your images. i would like to know if i could use images from your amazing website.
    Thank you.

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  • Jenny Booth


  • I use plastic yogurt cups to start my seedlings. Even those deeper plastic microwave dinner trays can be used. Just poke a couple holes in the bottom of them, add seedling mix and seeds!

    Also, cut plastic milk bottles into 1″ x 5″ strips and use them for plant/seedling ID markers.

  • mille petters

    i think this site is brillant 🙂

  • mille petters

    i am doing it as well it is brillant and also i fail 🙂

  • tiaa xxx

    hey im stuck and need to find upcycling ideas for next week!!! I am practising ICT GCSEs which we start in yr8… in yr7!!! i need good websites like these!

  • CS

    Tiaa, just google the word “Upcycling”. i am in year 10 and i am now taking the IT GCSE course and there is loads- this stuff is all good but google is your best bet tbh =]

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  • tanmim

    i am aslo in year 10 and i am doing this for ict gcse course .. it really helped

  • Fuck off Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

  • tashie

    im in yr 10 doing that IT thingy and have no idea what im doing tbh. I think im going to fail cba xx

  • tashie

    im boreeeeedddddddddddd

  • tashie

    upcycling is for middle aged woman who think there “cool” and a “yummy mummy”.

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