Okay, so you’re on board with upcycling. That’s great! But where do you get your materials? You don’t have EVERYTHING in your house. How do you find upcycling materials?
There are a lot of different ways and opportunities to get free or cheap things. Most of these things are possible to upcycle. It mostly comes down to having an eye for it. But there are some places you can look that typically have a good selection.
In this article, I’m going to outline several places you can go to get free (or cheap) materials to upcycle. Not all areas will have all of the options available, but this can give you a good idea of what you can look for.
Almost every community has a form of local classifieds. These are areas where people near you are selling their old stuff they don’t want. This is a gold mine for finding upcycling materials.
The awesome benefit of looking at the classifieds in your area is that they live near you! They 100% are in a geographical location that makes sense for you to find materials.
Plus, they usually (almost always) have a “FREE” section in the classifieds. That’s awesome!
Facebook Marketplace is like your local classifieds on steroids. There are over 2.3 BILLION Facebook users. THAT’S A THIRD OF THE WORLD’S POPULATION! You’re bound to find something on there that will help your upcycle search.
A nice thing about using the Facebook Marketplace is that they have a communication function already built into it. So when you’re interested in something, you can just click “message seller” and you’ve started the negotiation.
Oh yeah. And they ALSO have a FREE section. Bonus.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: “Not another classifieds!” But for real, although Craigslist is kind of dying down because of Facebook Marketplace, it’s still the longest and largest running classified ads platform on the internet. So there’s still a big bank of people on there looking to get rid of their stuff.
Also, it’s a great place to get junk, if you’re into taking trash and turning it into treasure.
And they ALSO have a FREE section. So another bonus there.
This is a little more niche, but you can find some real gems at junkyards. Old car parts can be upcycled into a lot of different things. And there are people who will get rid of their car because the engine goes out, but the interior is in great condition.
You can find fabric, foam, metals, glass–all kinds of things if you take a look hard enough, and most of it can be upcycled in a lot of different ways. So the next time you have a project, think “can I make it out of an old car?”
EBay’s not quite as cheap as it once was. It used to be used for getting rid of junk, and now it’s used primarily for collector’s items and other things that are in really good shape.
But occasionally you can find a real gem on there if you’re willing to look. And hey, I’ve seen some things I would certainly deem junk on there before.
The main reason I bring it up is that on eBay, you can usually find items in really good condition. Most of the other resources fall a little bit short on the quality. But eBay has a lot of really high-quality items.
New Neighborhood Developments
This is an awesome place. When I was a little kid, my family lived in a developing neighborhood, which meant there was a lot of wasted wood and materials.
My friends and I would make ramps for bikes and scooters and swords to fight each other, it was a dream. But I digress.
Builders get rid of SO many materials, it’s insane. Because everything they use has to be cut to the correct dimensions, they have no need for massive amounts of wood. So in new neighborhoods, there are usually a lot of really big dumpsters just full of excellent materials waiting to be hauled to the trash.
If you ask the builder kindly, they’re likely to let you take whatever you want from their dumpsters. They have to pay to haul it away anyway, so you end up saving them money.
Or you could go after construction hours are over and just take it. But shh…I didn’t tell you that.
Salvage yards are different than junkyards. Junkyards are usually for cars only (sometimes for scrap metal as well), and the car owner gives the car up.
Salvage yards are usually for demolition projects and the salvage yard company requests to go and take pieces away during the demolition. So you can usually find really awesome pieces like doors, signs, furniture, knick-knacks, and trinkets.
Really you can find anything. I’ve even seen a fair amount of vending machines. It’s a hoarder’s dream. *Cough* I mean upcycler’s dream.
Have you ever been driving down the highway and thought “who on earth would put a couch there?” It’s true, so many people end up leaving their stuff on the side of the road.
Sometimes it’s on accident–fell out of their truck while driving or whatnot. But a lot of the times it’s on purpose and it’s up for grabs.
A lot of neighborhoods in the US have a “bulk” waste pickup day, which means your neighbors leave their big items out on the road for the pickup to come by. Just ask your neighbor if you can have it instead.
I wouldn’t exactly dive into McDonald’s dumpster. That would be gross. But a hardware shop’s maybe. A lot of stores have some pretty awesome stuff they throw away if you’re willing to take the dive.
Or if you prefer to be civil (and like a normal human being), you can just ask the store manager if they are throwing away the item you’re looking for.
Or just ask them if you can take some of their trash off their hands. It might be hit or miss with their response, but you could score gold.
Thrift stores are like the brick and mortar version of eBay. In fact, you’re usually not allowed to donate anything to thrift stores unless it’s in good working condition.
This is a huge one for upcycled clothing. Most articles of clothing there will be in decent condition, which means you’re likely to have a good project.
Another thing that’s nice about thrift stores is that they sell everyday items, so you already have a pretty good idea of what you can get out of them.
Lumber yards are different from salvage yards AND junkyards. These places have specific dimensions they’re supposed to sell lumber in, and if they can’t cut a piece of wood into those dimensions, they scrap it.
This could be a wash. You may find that the wood scraps they have really are not that great. Or it may be awesome, and it’s just the piece you’re looking for. You really never know until you go and see.
ISO on Social Media
This might seem a little weird, but it’s totally worth it. How many of us have things we’re probably never going to use and we just haven’t gotten around to listing it in the classifieds or throwing it away?
Well you probably have a million friends with a million items sitting in their garage, waiting to be thrown out. And by putting out an ISO on Facebook, you bring it to the top of their minds and they might be willing to just let you come and take it.
Buy and sell groups. Sometimes people don’t even post to Facebook Marketplace. They go straight to a buy and sell groups to list their stuff.
You can find buy and sell groups in your specific area, or for specific categories. So you can filter by area or by item
There are also groups for people who just like collecting things, and you could put an ISO out on those groups as well to find out if they have the item you’re looking for.
There are really a million different ways to find materials for upcycling, you just need to be willing to keep your eye out and look in unusual places.
Wear Proper Gear for Your Salvaging
When you go salvaging, most things you touch aren’t clean, polished, or soft. That means it might be a good idea to wear protective gear.
Gloves, eye protection, and long sleeve shirts and pants are a good idea. These items especially make sense for the dumpster diving activities and yards to find materials.
Proper gear might also mean you find a truck to use so you can haul the materials away without them falling out of your car. Just make sure you’re prepared when you go looking for materials.
Resources for UK
As I did the research for this article, I found a lot of additional resources in the UK. Specifically, there were two resources I found that had a lot of places to get upcycled materials.
The first is this article from UpcycleThat.com, where they talked about EnviroMate. A company that salvages unused items in construction. You can find that article here.
Another resource I found was a YouTube video by Charis Williams (Salvage Sister) on where to find materials. You can find her video here.
Who knew the UK was so upcycle savvy?