Ten Cool and Creative Upcycling Ideas

December 20, 2014 by


Upcycling is not just an admirable play on words, it’s also a creative way to produce less waste while contributing to the increasingly important effort towards sustainability. But besides all that, it can just be a lot of fun. Once you start to think about it, you’ll notice “waste” items everywhere that could lead entirely different lives.

To help you open your eyes to the possibilities around you, I put together a list of ten examples of upcycle excellency. Don’t worry; if your neighbors catch you dumpster-diving, you can blame it on me.

1. Colorful Reclaimed Pipe Upcycled Into Garden Planter
As part of a local recycling project, Barcelona, Spain industrial designer Fabian Andino of Espaibuenrollo reclaimed colorful but otherwise un-reusable and non-disposable PVC pipes, upcycling them into portable planters that can hang on walls or rest on specially-designed racks. Perhaps you want to try and make one? Read more about TUBI here.


2. Oil Drum Upcycled Into Outdoor Public Bench
For Perches and Pews, a student competition to design public benches for the London Architecture Festival 2012, designer Robert Johnson recycled an old oil drum into a rotating outdoor bench. Read here about what he used to keep the seat steady when not in use; it might surprise you.


3. Upcycled Furniture From Reclaimed Pipes
I’m smitten by Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek’s imaginative use of salvaged pipes upcycled into chairs and benches. They’d d be pretty fabulous out in the garden or in the right indoor space. Take a closer look here and you’ll see what I mean.


4. Found it! Bright Ideas for DIY Lighting Using Repurposed Household Objects
We were intrigued with the fun and unique lighting ideas out there, all made from upcycled household objects. For you crafty types, here are some creative DIY instructions as well as ready-to-go designs you can purchase.



5. Mobile Urban Gardens in Upcycled Parcels
Welcome the itinerant gardener, not the one who travels from plot to plot, but the one whose community gardens travel from spot to spot. We’ve written a lot about mobile gardens before, but these self-contained gardens go beyond being simply plant-growing mobile allotments. These cool solutions are often constructed using reclaimed and upcycled items like rail cars, buses, trucks, bikes, and even an airplane. I personally like the bus; take a look at more cool upcycled allotments here.


6. DIY Portable and Upcycled Fire Pit
I spotted this one day on Instructables (from member pienkc) and just had to share. I’m not suggesting we all go out and steal a shopping cart, but if you happen to come across a rejected or trashed one, this is a cool way to reuse it: as a fire pit–and it has its own built-in log storage rack to boot. The materials will cost you about $15…learn how to make your own shopping cart fire pit here.


7. Artists Upcycle Trash Into Treasures for Gardens and Balconies
As a lover of sustainable design, gardening, and environmentally friendly practices, I was excited when Nathan Devine reached out to me about Retrash, his community project dedicated to reducing landfill by recycling, repurposing, and upcycling trash into useful and decorative wares. Devine’s book features more than 80 crafty and environmentally-conscious artisans. See some of their upcycled masterpieces here.


8. Upcycled Tea Time for the Birds
For a “Creative Garden Retreat”–a reimagined garden shed, greenhouse, and garden–I once created for a Stamford, CT Designer Show House, my the hunt for cool repurposed objects led me to these teacups and creamers upcycled into bird feeders. Take a look, maybe you’ll be inspired to have teatime with your neighborhood birds.


9. User-Designed Table Using Recycled Wine Bottles
Oh good, an excuse to drink more wine! These wine bottles have been upcycled into table legs, their weight providing the necessary balance and support for the recycled treated and waxed wood boards. As they poke through the suface, the bottle necks acquire new user-determined purposes–as vases, candlesticks, or bowls. Take a look at some of the many possibilities for a project like this, here.


10. Reclaimed Boat Sails Upcycled as Portable Planters
In the hands of Parsons School of Design grads, Miriam Josi and Stella Lee Prowse, a local sail maker’s post-production sailcloth waste and scrap boat covers have been reborn as planters. Not just planters, but portable flat-folding, space-saving babes that can even travel on a bicycle’s handlebars– you can see them here.

Off you go! The vast world of waste is yours to upcycle.

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