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Is Upcycling Easy? The Ups and Downs of Upcycling


Upcycling can be a very sustainable habit to get into. It makes use of old things and keeps things productive for longer. But how hard is upcycling? Is it something you even want to get into?

Upcycling, like other things in the Do-It-Yourself category, takes a level of skill. Some projects will be easier than others. Difficulty varies from project to project and with the materials you use. Like most things, the more you do it, the easier it gets for you.

So what makes it hard and what makes it easy? Let’s start off with the good news!

What Makes Upcycling Easy

As mentioned before, practice! Practice makes upcycling easier. The more you do it and the more you try new projects, the easier it will come to you.

Upcycling is a little bit of a mentality as it is a skill set. And so the more you upcycle, the more you’ll see things that you can upcycle. The first time you upcycle something, you may think that you’ve put a lot of creative work into that, and then a year down the road, you might see just how many things can be upcycled (a lot, by the way)!

Another thing that makes upcycling easy right out of the gate is the fact that you have your base materials already. Since upcycling is the art of making new use out of old things, you already have stuff to start upcycling!

A helpful tip is to try and think before you throw something away “can I use this for something else?” If you answer that with a “yes,” then you’re on your way to upcycling.

It’s not quite like construction where you need to go out and buy ALL of your materials in order to get started. Right out of the gate, you have what you need to get started.

Even if you do end up wanting to upcycle things other than what you own, you’re probably going to end up buying it used, which means it’s going to be cheaper than if you bought it new. So that’s another thing that adds to the ease of upcycling.

If you look on your local Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, there are people giving away perfectly usable items for FREE! This means you can pick up upcycling base materials for absolutely no money (except for gas to get to your neighbor’s and back).

What Makes Upcycling Hard

On the flip side, there are things that can make upcycling hard. For example, practice takes time and effort.

I’m not a very patient person, and I usually end up rushing my products. I don’t know if you’ve ever rushed a product before, but it ends up being a disaster! Or at least it ends up being less than what I hoped for.

This means that upcycling can be very challenging for me. I don’t like waiting for my paint to dry! So sometimes getting the hand of upcycling projects can be really difficult. Sure, practice makes you better, but the practice is really hard.

So if you’re like me, then upcycling can be a challenge for you.

Similarly, the mindset can also be hard. I know that just about anything can be upcycled, but it can be difficult to see trash as anything more than junk. It’s hard to stop and think about what I’m throwing away before I actually throw it away.

In fact, I was getting rid of a box spring the other day, and if I had owned a truck, I totally would have just taken it to the dump. But I didn’t, so it sat in my garage for a week as I thought “how can I upcycle this?” Well, it came to me when I thought “I could break it down…and make a shelf out of it.”

But I wouldn’t have thought that if I had taken it straight to the dump.

Last couple of things that make upcycling hard–creativity and design. As I mentioned before, I have a tendency to rush through things, so taking the time to think through how I’m going to make something and make it look good can be a real struggle. But if you have an eye for design, this probably isn’t an issue for you.

Money Upcycling Saves You

You save money on most of your material costs when you upcycle. If you have a bunch of wood that’s lying around unused, you don’t need to go buy a shelf. So right off the bat, the cost of everything you end up making goes down.

If you’re good with tools and building things, or you’re super crafty, it probably ends up saving you time too. So it ends up being a win-win.

I know people who are kind of sticklers when it comes to design, and they will spend hours at a store looking for a piece they really, really like. Well, if you know how to upcycle, it’s probably faster (in addition to cheaper) to just make it yourself. That way it will look exactly how you want it to, and you don’t have to rely on someone else to get you a good design.

It also can save you a little bit of stress. Most upcyclers are very environmentally conscious, so you can take a load off knowing that a part of what you own is reused, meaning you reduced your consumption.

Money Upcycling Costs You

What upcycling doesn’t saving you money on are tools. You could think to yourself “yeah, I’ll just build that instead of buying it,” and then you realize that you don’t have the additional resources you need to do that.

If you have a garage full of tools or a room full of craft supplies, this probably isn’t an issue for you. And ultimately, it might be a good idea to have them anyway. But sometimes you run into a project you don’t have all the tools for…and that requires you going out and buying them.

If you’re going to be doing bigger projects, like a shelf, a bench, a table, etc., it will be super useful to have the saws, drills, bits, glue, and clamps you need to make it happen. Oh yeah, and paint. Everyone uses paint at some point in time for upcycling their things.

If you plan on doing projects more on the smaller size, it will probably come in handy to have a good pair of scissors, a sewing kit, a hot glue gun, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, etc., so you can make your containers and decor and whatnot. Oh yeah, and you’re going to need paint for smaller projects too.

The last thing is that if you aren’t super skilled at upcycling, it might cost you time instead of saving you time. This is why there are ups and downs to upcycling. For some people, it’s really efficient to upcycle–they’re just geared for it. Others, it takes a real effort.

As with most things, the difficulty varies, and so one project could save you time and money. On another project it could cost you several hours to get things done, not to mention a pretty penny.

You’ll never really know if you don’t try. And so give it a try.

Other Things to Consider

Where to get materials? We mentioned Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. But are there other places that could also have useful materials for you?

It could be possible to work out deals with local thrift stores or junkyards that before they send things to landfills, they contact you and let you come take a look at it before you go. You might be able to negotiate discounts this way to get good materials.

Are there people who can help you upcycle? I’m a member of a number of Facebook groups of people who LOVE upcycling. There are some people out there who just are really passionate about it. If you are looking to get into upcycling, there may be someone who can help you get started and get things rolling.

Has someone done your project before? With the fact that pretty much anything can be upcycled, odds are that someone has created the project you want to work on before.

This can be really useful because a lot of them post instructions online. So before you launch into your project, take a look online and see if there’s a resource out there that can help you out.

What is Upcycled Food?


So you’ve upcycled your old clothes, your old wood, and your old glass jars. But can you upcycle your food? The answer is actually yes! And it’s been done a lot.

What is upcycled food? Upcycled food is food and cuisine created out of parts of other food products that would normally be thrown away or discarded. Upcycled food is a safe and sanitary cuisine that doesn’t involve using harmful or unhealthy food products.

Okay, but for real, what kind of food “upcycling” are we talking about?

Why Upcycle Food?

If you think about it, the concept of food upcycling has been around for a LONG time. In history class, we learn that primitive hunting communities used to use every part of animals they killed for something useful, and the concept of food upcycling isn’t much different.

So, for example, ancient cultures would kill a mammoth and use its meat for food, bones for weapons, skin and fur for clothes, and stomach for a bag or something. I don’t actually know–I wasn’t there–but the idea is the same. Everything was used so you didn’t waste anything.

Back then, being resourceful in that way was a necessity to live. It was easier to figure out how to use every bit of every animal (and plant) than it was to find and use resources.

Well, in today’s day and age, resources are REALLY easy to get a hold of, and so, we as a culture kind of got out of the habit of making use of everything we have. We started to create more waste.

That, and we have a ton more people on the planet now than we did thousands of years ago, so things became about making things efficient instead of resourceful. Not “how much can we get out of every resource?”, but instead “how quickly can we make something for people to use?”. And the answer to those two questions can be wildly different.

As a result, when it comes to food, humans usually send a third of CONSUMABLE produce and other food products to waste. That’s like opening up the Oreo pack and having a whole sleeve missing!

That’s kind of insane, and not only do we think about that and say “wow, we can be pretty wasteful,” but it also has environmental implications (and bad ones, at that).

Now, a lot of food is compostable, so throwing out food wouldn’t be that big of a deal if that’s how people got rid of it. But it’s not.

When food gets old or bad, instead of composting it, most of us just put it in the trash–the same trash that’s going to a landfill. So it actually ends up being super bad for the environment.

It comes out to billions of tons of food every year that is discarded in a way that negatively affects the environment. Again, if you’re using the food for compost and have a way to use it that way, that’s awesome. Most of us aren’t that great at gardening though.

How Upcycling Food Works

Using food as a compost would be better termed as food recycling instead of upcycling. Both are good, but we’re talking about upcycling food today.

Essentially, the way upcycling food works is by taking food you would normally throw out for cosmetic reasons or overripeness and using it in recipes that can use that food.

Probably the most popular food to upcycle is bananas. Most people hate eating old, overripe bananas. They’re mushy, brown, and slimy instead of firm, yellow, and chewable. Gross.

So what do you do with brown, bruised, and overripe bananas? Make a smoothie out of them. Or banana bread! In fact, old bananas have larger amounts of sugar in them, so using them in banana bread or smoothies makes a lot of sense. It makes those recipes sweeter!

In other words, if you’re making a smoothie or banana bread, it’s best to upcycle old bananas than it is to buy new bananas.

But I digress.

The same principle can be applied across a bunch of different foods. I’ve seen carrot top hummus, old berry jam, and wilted greens pesto. And hot dogs. For real, though, that’s basically what they are.

There’s really a lot that can be done.

The hard part about doing it yourself is coming up with the recipes. Most people don’t just let produce get overripe, we let it spoil and get moldy. As a consequence, there aren’t nearly as many upcycling recipes as there are normal recipes.

Try and catch your food before it spoils and see if you can make something out of it. The main reasons people throw food out when it’s old are texture or cosmetics. We don’t like the way it feels or looks anymore.

And that’s totally okay that we don’t like those things. So instead of trying to change your mind about the food, change something about the food. In the case of banana bread, the banana is mashed up and put into something else. So texture and color are no longer an issue.

Old tomatoes probably make you grimace when you put them on a sandwich, but if you blend them up and put them into a marinara or a salsa, you just made something fresh that’s way better than the processed stuff you get at the store.

With some skill, a little bit of creativity, and some dedication to catch your food at the right time, upcycling food could be a huge benefit. It helps the planet, but it also helps on the grocery bill.

Popular Upcycled Food Companies

Guess what! You’re not alone in the food upcycling journey. In fact, there are a bunch of companies now that literally exist because of food upcycling. In 2011, there were 11 companies, now there are over a hundred local, national, or international businesses that make good food that was going to be waste.

I decided I would create a table for you that contained some of the popular upcycle food companies I’ve seen on the internet. That way you don’t have to scroll through a super long list.

CompanyWebsiteWhat They Do
ReGrainedhttps://www.regrained.com/These are supergrain bars. Essentially like granola bars, but on steroid.
WTRMLN WTRhttps://wtrmlnwtr.com/A lot of watermelons go to waste strictly for cosmetic reasons. So these guys take the inside fruit and make a drink out of it.
Barnanahttps://barnana.com/Remember how you can use bananas for a lot of things? These guys use them for chips.
Canvashttps://drinkcanvas.com/Canvas drinks are high fiber, high protein shakes made from spent barley grains from breweries.
Risehttps://www.riseproducts.co/Speaking of spent grain. These guys make flour and brownies with it. Nice!
Pulp Pantryhttps://pulppantry.com/These chips are made from vegetable juice pulp. And some of the flavors are pretty wild for veggies.

Benefits to Upcycled Food

So, I’m a huge fan of not doing things unless they’re more convenient or more effective. Are there any benefits to upcycled food instead of just normal food? Turns out, yeah!

  • Upcycled food is usually really nutritious. Most of what gets tossed out in the processing part of making food is the better stuff for you. So you end up getting power-packed snacks and other foods by eating upcycled food.
  • It’s also sustainable. Every time an upcycled food company surfaces (or you upcycle your own produce) the food industry gets a little bit closer to that zero waste goal. Even after you’ve upcycled your food. If you have anything left from THAT, you can still compost it.
  • It’s good for your wallet! The adage of “waste not, want not” is true in this case. Considering the fact that most people throw out a third of their food every year, the more of it you eat, the less you spend.
  • It’s good for the economy. An entire industry exists because of it. When you buy or eat upcycled food, you’re helping a business out and boosting the economy.

So the next time you’re thinking of throwing out that old fruit or vegetable, think to yourself “is this really bad? Or can I use it for something else I didn’t think of?” You might just find that a lot of food you were planning to throw out may become your favorite thing to eat.

Is Upcycling a Good Hobby for Everyone?


Upcycling has a lot of benefits. It’s good for the environment, it’s very cost-effective, and it can be really fun. But is upcycling a good hobby for everyone?

Upcycling is the process of turning things that would be considered trash into useable items. While it’s a good hobby for a lot of people, some people don’t like upcycling and prefer doing other things as their hobbies instead.

So what is it that makes people like upcycling and others not like it? And is it the right hobby for you?

What is Upcycling?

Throwing out an old ottoman? How about some clothes that don’t fit anymore? Usually, our habit is to trash or recycle unwanted or worn-out items. Upcycling takes a different spin on things.

Instead of getting rid of things we would normally consider trash, upcycling is the process of turning those items into something useful. Usually, you do it yourself, but there are actually businesses that make money upcycling things.

A quick Google or Pinterest search of “How to upcycle ___” and then you fill in the blank will bring up loads of ideas on how to turn your trash into treasure.

Upcycling is seen as very environmentally friendly because you cut out the reprocessing that recycling requires. Instead, you turn one thing into another and it all stays right in your own home.

Popular things to upcycle are:

  • Old clothes (into pillows, blankets, bags, etc.)
  • Glass jars (for candle holders, storage containers, etc.)
  • Reclaimed wood (for just about anything, from furniture to accent walls to tables,etc.)
  • Plastic bottles (there are SO many ways to upcycle these, it blows my mind)

Even though there are items that are popular to upcycle, almost anything can be upcycled. And odds are, there are people who have upcycled the same item, and the information on how they did it is on the internet.

Some things can even be upcycled multiple times, if done well. And other things can be upcycled into multiple products. For example, an old car could be upcycled into a handbag, a desk, an accent garden, and a belt all at the same time. With a little bit of creativity, almost anything can be turned into something useful and something beautiful.

What You Need to Upcycle

Upcycling is kind of like reverse crafts. When making crafts, you think about a project you want to do, and then you go out and buy the supplies you need to make it. With upcycling, you start with the materials and then come up with a project that would be useful to you or someone else.

Sometimes, you do need extra supplies, and you fill for sure need tools at some point in time or another. So it’s good to understand what you’re going to need to do upcycling as a hobby in the first place.

General tools you’re going to need include (but are not limited to):

  • A saw
  • Scissors
  • Hot glue
  • Paint (boy, do you need paint!)
  • Wood stain
  • Screws
  • A drill
  • Sting (like twine or yarn)
  • Rope
  • Measuring tape
  • A box cutter or utility knife

Most upcycle DIY projects include at least some of these tools, if not all of them. Since upcycling is kind of a cross between crafts and home improvement, a standard toolset will include elements from both categories.

Another thing you’re going to need is an eye for design. I mean, most people can think of practical uses for old trash, but for upcycling to really be good, you need to be able to take raw materials and create something quality out of them.

There are a lot of people who just are super “crafty,” and that’s totally okay, but upcycling does require a little bit of skill to do well.

You also need time. Unlike going down to the store and buying your next table, you’re literally making it out of something that wasn’t even meant to be a table in the first place! Speaking from experience in that exact scenario, you’re going to need a good chunk of time to upcycle old items.

My dad would always say that when he’s working on a project, he gives himself three times as much time as he thinks he needs to accomplish it, and that’s usually just the right amount.

That’s how upcycling can be.

One of the reasons it takes so much time is because you may not know all of the materials you need. When you’re making a craft or even building a shed, you’re usually following some sort of a plan.

Upcycling requires a little bit more imagination, and while you can do really awesome planning for your project, you may get halfway through and realize that you need more supplies.

In that case, you end up making multiple trips to the store to get what you need, and that can make even a simple project take a really long time.

Don’t get me wrong, upcycling can be really fun, and really rewarding because you’re making something useful. But it does require time, effort, and sometimes money. So it needs to be something you’re interested in to be a successful hobby.

Upcycling as a Hobby

Upcycling seems to fit a few different kinds of personalities. Some do it as a hobby because they enjoy making things with their hands. Others make a hobby out of upcycling because they’re very environmentally conscious.

Whatever the case, here are some things you might end up doing as the result of making upcycling a hobby.

Wandering junkyards. Junkyards are a great place to get materials because you can get things for either free or really cheap. I know of upcycling hobbyists who really enjoy going through local junkyards of sorts to find supplies. Sometimes they don’t even have an objective in mind, they just like seeing junk and thinking of ways it could be used.

Spending a lot of time at thrift stores. Similar to junkyards, thrift stores can be a great place to get materials at really inexpensive prices. And you can usually find a few that are close to you.

There are a couple of upsides of going to thrift stores. Firstly, most thrift stores won’t sell things that are in really bad condition, which means that you have good bones to work with when you’re working on your projects.

The other benefit is that many thrift stores have charitable causes and donate things to the needy. So you get a do a double-good by helping the environment and helping out the needy.

Collecting, well…trash. If you’re upcycling, you’re probably collecting things that are considered by most, trash. For one reason or another, you might save junk you plan to use in the future.

You might have an idea that requires more materials, but they’re materials you don’t have yet. So you set the item aside until you have what you need to work on the project.

Or maybe you have everything you need, but you haven’t set aside the time to work on the project. Either way, those items may sit in your garage, yard, or shed until you’ve carved out the time and resources to do the project.

Upcycling as Something Besides a Hobby

Now, if you’re interested in upcycling, you don’t need to do it as a hobby. Maybe you don’t do it because you like it, you do it more out of necessity. This is totally fine as well.

Maybe you just want to be thrifty, so instead of going out and getting materials to upcycle, you just upcycle what you were planning to throw out originally.

If we’re being honest, most people who upcycle probably fall under this category. They only upcycle when they have trash. They don’t go out and look for it.

But there’s also another kind of upcycler who isn’t a hobbyist or utilitarian. And that the person who upcycles for a business. There are many ways people have made money by upcycling, and we actually have an article on how you can start your own upcycling business yourself here.

It can be very profitable to upcycle for money, and many people do it for their livelihood. So this is another reason you could upcycle for more than “just because.”

Is Upcycling the Right Hobby for You?

So the real question is, is upcycling right for you? And now that you know a little bit about what upcycling entails, you probably have a good idea of whether it’s a good hobby for you.

Is it a good hobby for everyone? Probably not. I think everyone should do it when they have items they’re throwing out. But turning it into a hobby that you spend most of your free time doing might be a little bit much.

Some people prefer other things. Like hiking, or reading, or exercising. And that’s okay, not everyone likes working with their hands.

But if you do, it might be a good hobby for you. If you like designing things, building things, solving puzzles, being creative and imaginative, or if you like doing things to help the environment–it might be a great hobby for you.

Is Upcycling Profitable? How Upcycling Can Make You Money


Upcycling is a really cool thing for the environment and a great way to create useful things for really cheap. But can it make you money? Is it possible to turn a profit with upcycling?

Upcycling has been proven to be a very successful business model for small and large businesses. Whether you want to make a modest side income or create a thriving business, it’s possible to do with upcycling.

But how does that profitability work? What do you need to do in order to make money upcycling?

Examples of Profitable Upcycling Businesses

There are several profitable upcycling businesses that are well known. And there are TONS more successful upcycling businesses that aren’t well known.

A quick Google or Youtube search will probably bring up some of the better known upcycling companies, like TerraCycle or Hipcycle. But a further look will bring up smaller companies that are also making an impact, like Mariclaro.

In fact, you can probably find even more upcycle businesses on websites like Facebook Marketplace, eBay, or Craigslist. You might also have one in your home town.

The point is, there are profitable upcycling businesses all over the place, and some of them are making really, really good money doing it.

Whether you want to make a little bit of side cash, or you want to quit your full-time job and do upcycling as a career, there are opportunities to make money upcycling.

All of these businesses have things in common that make them successful. Let’s get into them so you have the right tools you need to run a profitable upcycling business yourself.

Pick a Niche

Every business (upcycling or not) needs to start with a niche. A niche is a gap in the market–a need that isn’t being filled currently. It’s where there are low supply and high demand.

Picking a niche can be tough because it’s easy to overthink it. And in the category of upcycling, there’s really not enough competition that you need to worry about it. Basically the way you should think about it is if it’s something you’d be interested in buying, someone else is also probably interested in buying it.

Niches can also evolve, so you don’t need to nail your niche right out the gate to be successful.

In other words, if you’ve upcycled old curtains into really awesome handbags before and you really enjoyed doing it–it’s probably a good niche! You can always change later if you decide you like upcycling something else more or there’s just not enough demand.

And demand does play a big part in choosing a niche. Just make sure that what you’re creating is good and useful (high quality and practical) and there will be a demand.

Important! Don’t Not Choose a Niche

Just a brief note on this, if you don’t choose a niche, customers won’t know what to expect from you and it will be really difficult to maintain good quality across all of your products.

Niches are really important to both delivering a good product and creating a strong brand.

Examples of What a Niche Is and What It Is Not

You may think that “upcycling” is a niche, but it’s really not. Virtually anything can be upcycled in one way or another, so just saying that you sell upcycled products isn’t specific enough to catch people’s eye.

Examples of niches are:

  • Pillows made from old clothing
  • Shelves made from wood pallets
  • Backpacks made from car upholstery
  • Kitchen decor made from scrap metal

Notice that in all of these, the niche was really the product + what you make it out of. Some can be a little bit broader, like the “kitchen decor” which is really a category of products, instead of one product.

But it does need to be specific so you can get really good at your one thing.

The Difference Between Refurbishing and Upcycling

This too needs a brief mention. There are a lot of refurbishing businesses out there who claim to be upcycling businesses, but there is a difference.

Refurbishing (or refinishing) entails taking an old product and fixing it so it works again. Upcycling is when you take materials from an old products and make a new, different product out of them.

Sanding down and painting a table is refurbishing or refinishing.

Taking an old door and turning it into a table is upcycling.

When doing research for your upcycling gig, “furniture flipping” and “upcycling furniture” comes up quite a bit. Flipping furniture is a way to make money, it’s just not exactly upcycling.

A true upcycling business involves taking old products and making something different out of them.

Make Sure You Have a Steady Trash Source

Depending on how big you want your upcycling business to be, it’s very important to have a source where you get trash consistently.

Most product-based companies have a manufacturer. A factory that makes the product they sell. The “made in China” tag on most of what you own goes to show that companies need a place where they can get product from consistently.

An upcycling business is the same way. The way you get the product is going to be different, but you still need a place to get materials on a regular basis.

If you make dressers out of cardboard boxes, for example, it would be very helpful for you to have an agreement with a local retail store where you get their old boxes that they were just going to get rid of anyway.

If you plan on upcycling as a full-time job one day, it’s really important that you have materials readily available. When you run out of materials, you run out of product, which means you can’t make any money selling upcycled goods.

This is known as a supply chain. It’s how you go from raw material to purchased products sent to your customers. If anywhere along that chain gets held up, money stops flowing to your business.

Buy Low, Sell High

One of the great benefits of doing an upcycling business is product cost. In order to make money, you need to be able to sell something for more than it cost you to make.

The fact that upcycling involves turning trash into a usable product means that you’re either getting your materials for free, or they are extremely cheap because they’re garbage to people.

This is another reason why it’s important to pick a niche. In order to know what you should be paying for materials, you need to know what people are willing to pay for products.

For example, it would probably be a bad idea to buy old curtains for $20, when you can only sell a bag made from those curtains for $15. But if you can buy a curtain for $5 and sell the bag for $50, you have a pretty nice profit margin.

It helps if you’re looking for things that other people consider trash. I know that might seem obvious. But there’s a difference between buying a beat-up antique and buying garbage. One might still have monetary value to people while the other doesn’t.

Getting Good at Your Craft

This is true for businesses outside of upcycling, but it’s especially true for upcycling companies. You need to be good at what you do.

For most upcyclers, they make something good enough for their own liking. Maybe you make a shelf out of leftover baseboard wood and it’s not pretty but it works.

Well, that might work for you as the creator, but it’s usually not good enough to sell. There’s usually a pretty big gap between what we make do with ourselves and what others are willing to pay for.

In order to be successful, you need to be good enough at making your products that other people want to buy them, and that might take some time.

So for the first little bit, make some for yourself, your family, your friends, and give them away until you get good enough. Then once you get really good at making your products, it’s time to start selling.

Where to Start Selling

There are really two different ways to sell, in existing marketplaces or on your own platform. You can definitely do both, but one might be easier than the other.

Existing Marketplaces

These would be places like Craigslist, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, local classifieds, Etsy, Amazon Handmade, etc. The benefit to these marketplaces is that they already have people visiting the websites. This means you already have an audience to sell to.

Another benefit to selling online locally is that you usually don’t need to worry about shipping. You can just have the customer come and pick the product up.

The downside to these marketplaces is they usually cost more money if you’re doing them at volume. Amazon, eBay, and Etsy all charge money to sell products on their website, so you need to say goodbye to some of your profits to sell there.

But then again, one of the benefits of upcycling is that to make the products, you usually don’t need very much money to start.

Building Your Own Platform

The other route is to create your own platform. This would usually involve either setting up a store in your local community or (more commonly) creating a website to sell your products on.

The main benefit to having your own store is that you get to control things. You get to decide how things work, what things look like, what the checkout process is, etc. If you want to change something, you can do that.

Most other marketplaces have policies that limit how much you can say about your products and how you can sell them.

The downside to creating your own website is that you need to find a way to generate the traffic coming to you. this usually involves some sort of advertising, which can be very costly.

Once you have some brand recognition, though, selling on your own website can be a lot more profitable because you don’t have any fees and you control the user experience.

So there are definitely trade-offs regarding how to sell your product, but you also don’t need to just pick one.

You could really post a product on all of the websites at the same time, and whichever platform sells the product first wins. There are a lot of ways to go about it.

Is It Worth Your Time?

This is really the question I would have you ask from the get-go. Because we know it’s true you can make money doing it, but is it worth your time?

Generally speaking, your startup costs are going to be low, so answering the time question is really all you need to do.

Sometimes it can be really difficult to start a business from scratch, and it takes time for things to really get off the ground. So even though it seems appealing, it might not be the right fit.

A good way to tell if starting an upcycling business is worth your time is to figure out how passionate you are about upcycling. Is it something you feel a lot of purpose in doing? Is it a passing hobby you like spending weekends doing?

This is a big factor determining if you should go full-time with it or not. Because at some point in time, it’s going to be hard. And maybe you would rather be doing something else.

There’s also nothing wrong with doing it on the side. There are plenty of people that make a good chunk of change turning their hobby into a side job.

Why You Should Start an Upcycling Business

Upcycling is a really cool gig. Most businesses exist to create waste, upcycling exists to eliminate it.

While most companies are creating products that will probably never be reused or recycled, upcycling combines both reusing and recycling in one.

There’s also a really cool story that comes along with having your niche in upcycling. By giving old products a new life, you’re creating a unique story with everything you sell.

There are a bunch of monetary reasons too. Your startup and product costs are low, your profit margins can be high, and you’re marketing to a group of people who love helping the planet and buying unique items.

And finally, there’s just a big need for it. Even though there are a lot of companies that do upcycling for their business, we still obviously produce more waste than we use. So there’s plenty of room for other upcycling business owners to help others get quality products without damaging the environment.

Is Upcycling Sustainable? – Boosting Your Green Game


Upcycling is one of the COOLEST trends out there in my opinion. It combines the creativity we all used to have as kids with a very eco-friendly mindset. But is upcycling sustainable?

Upcycling is very sustainable. It combines all of the benefits of reducing and recycling without some of the downsides. Upcycling decreases production costs and resources and lowers overall waste that would end up in landfills.

Okay, but seriously, HOW is upcycling so sustainable? And how does it fit into the sustainability ecosystem?

Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle…Then Recycle

It’s kind of a bummer that “upcycle” doesn’t start with an “R.” Otherwise, it would fit so nicely in the slogan we all know so well: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

But it’s true; before you decide to recycle something, you should definitely try and upcycle it first. In fact, upcycling, in many ways is much better for the planet than recycling.

Think about it, when you recycle, what happens to that product? Someone’s gotta pick it up and take it to a plant (transportation emissions). Then, that product needs to be broken down to its components before it can be reconstructed into a product.

In other words, your plastic water bottle needs to be deconstructed before it can become a park bench.

And any physics professor will tell you that the law of atrophy is in play here. You end up with fewer usable materials than you started with. So even with recyclable materials, only a certain amount can be used in the new, end product.

But it goes farther.

Once the materials are broken down, there’s still the energy and production factors to make the new product. And finally, there’s the transportation of the new product to wherever it’s going.

Upcycling is different. There’s no transportation cost. You don’t need to break products down to their raw materials to make something new. The production costs are usually minimal, and the resources are few.

And in the end, you end up with a different product–a product that now you don’t need to buy! So in addition to being extraordinarily efficient in its end to end production, upcycling also helps you reduce your consumption.

Now, from what I understand, recycling is still good because it keeps things out of landfills and allows us to cut back our waste. But if you’re looking at the impact on the environment, upcycling takes the cake.

This is why it’s frustrating that upcycling doesn’t start with an “R.” Because it really should be Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle, and then Recycle. The impact that upcycling can have on that system is enormous.

Upcycling and the Circular Economy

So there’s this idea that exists out there that one day, our net waste will be pretty darn near zero. That eventually, everything we own and use will be built out of something else, or that it will be a recycled for of itself.

Recycling is the first step in this economy because of how dynamic it can be. You really can rebuild a bottle to be anything else that’s plastic. But we’ve already discussed how this perspective can be limiting.

In the circular economy, not only will we repurpose things to make new products, but products will be designed to be repurposed. In other words, our products will not only will our products be sustainable because of what they’re made of, but because of how they’re designed.

Watch Lynelle Cameron, CEO of the Autodesk Foundation, once gave an example of this in a Youtube Video which can be found here.

Her example involves the production of a printer, which traditionally involves gluing different grade plastic pieces together. This makes recycling very difficult and inefficient.

If, however, a printer is designed with one grade of plastic, and the pieces snap together. Recycling that printer can be much easier and much more efficient.

Upcycling plays such a crucial role in the circular economy for two main reasons: First, it boosts the idea of a circular economy, and second, it’s the next step in building a circular economy.

If you think about it, if everyone upcycled instead of discarding items, our consumption, in general, would go WAY down.

If your old box springs became a bookshelf, your old sweater became a handbag, and your old shoe boxes became a cubby for your kids toys. We would buy so much less.

Another way of saying it is that, in the circular economy, instead of creating products out of raw materials, we create them out of existing products.

And that’s what upcycling is at its core.

Not Fewer Resources, But Easier, and Cheaper

So we’ve kind of talked the idea of fewer production resources to death. But what does this look like for the average Joe? How does this impact you and me?

Because on the outset, it really just looks harder on the consumer. Sometimes remember to recycle your items can be hard, now I have to be crafty and build everything out of products I already have?

But if you have the tools and a little bit of creativity, it can actually be easier. Because if you build it yourself, you don’t need to go out and find the product.

This is especially true if you’re making something like a bookshelf. You have to find one that fits, pick the right color, and then even once you buy it, you usually need to build it anyway.

With upcycling, you skip straight to the building part. And you’re building something with a purpose. There’s a reason for doing it beyond you just need more storage.

But this is true for many other objects you’d normally buy. Lamps, furniture, kitchen supplies, bags, etc. Once you get a knack for it, it can be easier than going out and buying things anyway. And it’s fun to do.

Upcycling in Business

Another way that this has become sustainable is by making its way into retail. There are now tons of stores that upcycle products.

They’re basically like thrift stores on steroids. Instead of buying something that looks and smells old, you buy something new that was made from old materials.

These businesses are usually small and local. However, there are many of them that sell their products online now. This is a huge step forward in sustainability–especially in the fashion industry.

Textiles are one of the biggest polluting industries out there. And by reusing fabrics, it dramatically cuts back on how much pollution is being added by the industry.

But upcycling has made its way into multiple retail industries, not just fabrics. And marketplaces like Etsy and eBay give these upcyclers a place to sell their products.

Another reason why this is so cool is that almost all of these upcycle companies are small businesses. So by purchasing from them, not only are you having a positive impact on the environment, but you’re helping a small business owner out.

Is it 100% Sustainable? Well…No

As much as I would love to say that upcycling is the end-all-be-all answer to sustainability, it still has a couple of drawbacks that leave us still trying to find an answer to how to make a sustainable, circular economy.

The main drawback to upcycling in its sustainability is that once something is upcycled, it’s hard to upcycle that product again. In other words, you might be able to upcycle your box springs to be a shelf, but upcycling that shelf is harder.

Every upcycle gets increasingly difficult. And although even just one upcycle is better than no upcycle, it does stop us from being able to have a total circular economy.

However, if you upcycled a plastic, and it gets to the point where you can’t upcycle it again, you can recycle it, and that can keep the circulation and sustainability going. This is true for all upcycled materials that are also recyclable.

The other downside to upcycling is that there are some materials that are neither upcyclable or recyclable. And regardless of your efforts, these materials end up as waste.

I think it’s important that in trying to be greener in our approach to waste, that we don’t beat ourselves up over the things we can’t control. And no matter how hard we try, it’s pretty well impossible to be 100% green and sustainable in all that we do.

Just my two cents there.

In the end, regardless of the shortcomings, upcycling can be a great way to ensure that we’re being more sustainable in our choices regarding consumption.

Related Topics

There are still some things to consider in your journey to be more sustainable through upcycling. Some of these questions might help you out:

What kind of tools do I need for upcycling? Having a good set of tools makes upcycling so much easier. It helps to have some good quality saws, screws, glue and paint. Most projects will require at least one of these items. So make sure you have what you need for the projects you’re working on.

Where do I get upcycling materials? Even the best upcyclers need materials to supplement their projects. Or maybe you want to upcycle something, but you’re not getting rid of anything. Locating your local thrift stores, salvage yards, and scrap yards is a good idea to do if you’re going to dive into upcycling.