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Upcycling: How to get involved in the latest sustainability trend

Posted on 12 February 2016

If you’re already keeping your energy usage to a minimum and want to do more to lead a greener lifestyle, why not get involved in the latest sustainability trend, upcycling? The more creative cousin of recycling, upcycling involves refashioning and repurposing objects to make them serve a more functional purpose. To give you an idea of just how easy it is to get involved, here’s a breakdown of the best ways to get started.

Back to basics

So, some of you may be wondering, what actually is the difference between upcycling and recycling? With recycling, you send your household waste to be broken down into their base materials which are subsequently remade into new products. On the other hand, upcycling involves taking an existing object and remodelling it to either give it a new purpose or simply spruce it up a bit.

Skill level

The best thing about this crafty hobby is that you don’t have to be a master carpenter or seamstress to reinvent your belongings. Anything can be upcycled, whether it’s turning wine bottles into candle sticks or tin cans into pen pots, the possibilities are endless.

However, if you do fancy being a little more inventive, being a dab hand with a saw and screwdriver can have its advantages. To give you a little creative inspiration as to how you can refashion your old belongings or other people’s waste, here are a few upcycling ideas to try for yourself.

Top tips

Before you get crafting, you’re probably going to need a few pointers from the upcycling pros. We spoke to Recycled Crafts’ upcycling specialist, Stefanie Girard, about the best ways to get started.

‘I like to say to myself when posed with a need, such as a place to store or organize something, "Do I already have something I can repurpose that will work, rather than going out to buy a new item?"

‘As a crafter, I often ask myself before putting a container in the recycle bin, "Is there any part of this that I can reuse for something in my craft world? Is the plastic a pretty colour? Would this box organise something or will I need to ship an item in the near future?” I also have a spot where I keep printouts for sketching out patterns or ideas on the back. These sheets also are great for protecting your table from paint, marker or glue when crafting.’

For those of you who need a little more guidance, here are five more top tips from some of the best in the business.

1. Make sure your project is structurally sound

Experienced upcycler, Jenna Burger, emphasises that you need to make sure whatever object you plan to upcycle is going to last the transformation. Particularly when working with furniture or larger items, you need to ensure that you check the joints and the structure of the piece so you don’t end up with your creation falling apart half way through.

2. Chalk paints are great for those new to upcycling

Ellie Harrington from Duck Egg Designs suggests that chalk paints are ideal for those new to upcycling as they require no priming and give a great coverage. Best for painting over dark stained wood or veneer, chalk paints are perfect for achieving a distressed finish. Once you’ve smoothed your surface, apply a couple of coats of paint, wax, buff, then sand for the distressed look.

3. Start with something simple

Author of Reclaim That, Sarah Heeringa, advises that it’s best to start with something simple. Choosing an item like a picture frame or an old piece of furniture to remodel is a good basis for starting out and practicing techniques.

4. Be brave and learn from mistakes

Upcycling expert, Max McMurdo, highlights that you need to be brave and not hold back when it comes to expressing your creativity. He also notes that it’s fine to make mistakes as it’s all part of developing new skills.

5. Choose items that are already heading for the bin

Upcycling blogger, Vicky Myers, hints that items which are already heading for the bin can easily be given a new lease of life. For instance, you can easily turn old light bulbs into Christmas baubles and baking trays into pin boards, reducing your household waste.

The upcycling community

Once you’ve caught the upcycling bug, you’re probably going to need the advice of other upcyclers on what to do next and the best techniques to use. For the latest upcycling news, upcycling guides and opportunities to sell your upcycled creations, check out Gumtree’s upcycling hub.

If you’d rather get to know others with a passion for upcycling, head to Twitter. Ask other upcyclers for advice, get a whole host of inspiration or offer your own expertise. Getting involved in the upcycling community can quickly help you learn the tricks of the trade.

Had a go at upcycling your possessions? Send us a picture via our Twitter

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