Upcycling is the New Recycling

I’ve written lots of articles in the past about the importance of recycling, and how vital it is to get the right materials recycled in the right way. Well, recycling is essential to avoiding wasted resources and environmental pollution, but how about the current trend for ‘upcycling’ items that would otherwise have been dumped? Upcycling means taking waste items or materials and altering them in some way to add value, so that the end result can continue to be useful in some way. I already do a bit of this myself, as I have mentioned before – I tumble-polish glass and turn the resulting material into pictures and ornaments, but some people take the whole process much further.

Wood, Bank, Upcycling, Minimalism, Seat

Money for nothing

The BBC has recently been showing a programme called ‘Money for Nothing’ in which an entrepreneur called Sarah Moore saves 3 items from being thrown into a skip at a recycling centre. With the help of some expert craftspeople and designers, plus a lot of ingenuity, she turns them into saleable goods, and after selling them, hands the profit back to the people who were dumping the goods in the first place. Naturally, she doesn’t go ‘dump diving’ which means illegally taking stuff out of the skips, she has permission to be there, and she must intercept the items before they go into the skip. It’s a bit of light entertainment, and I am always curious to see what she will get up to next.

Some of the items that Sarah salvages and re-imagines have to be seen to be believed; a few of them are utterly amazing (especially when she turns scrap wood into useful furniture), but some of them are quite frankly bizarre, and I can’t imagine why anyone would give them house room. The current trend for shabby chic means that there are people out there with more disposable income than sense, who enjoy having rusty-looking and apparently damaged furniture in their homes, and are prepared to pay a premium for it.


Here is an example of the bizarre – Sarah took a shabby old sofa with faded ripped covers, and passed it to an upholsterer. He sloshed some paint over it, ripped the covers a bit more, took detailed photographs of the resulting ruination, and had material custom-made from the photos. He replaced the old covers with the new material so that it was hygienic and met all current fire regulations, but just looked as though it was all ripped up and stained. The result was sold to a retro furniture retailer for a large amount of money (goodness knows what the retailer charged the end customer), and the original owner got a couple of hundred pounds from the proceeds.


Another transformation was done on the cushions from an old leather sofa. Sarah handed the burgundy cushions to a designer who took off the leather, dyed it dark brown, and made it into a messenger bag and a holdall, each lined with the canvas from an old scout tent. The end result was beautiful, but I’m glad I didn’t have to pay several hundred pounds for them, which is how much they eventually sold for! So, there really is money to be made from upcycling if you have the nerve and the know-how.

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