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Become an Upcycler

Adele Peters

Where
Everywhere

The next time you're walking down the street and see something set at the curb—a broken dresser or toy, or an old leather suitcase—consider cleaning it up and transforming it into something new. If you don't want to risk contact with other people's mysterious trash (and hey, bedbugs, I hear you), try rescuing something you were thinking of trashing or find a new use for something destined for the recycle bin. Sketch up some creative possibilities, and then turn your old item into something new.

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  • dina Amin

    I was going to throw away my old notebooks, so i cut out all the unused pages and binded all the different papers (graph paper, square, single line, double line..etc) together in a leather sleeve, and it's now my new notebook. I call it my rescued notebook!

  • Chloes95

    I've had to ignore so many trashed treasures because "they might have something on them" - Mom. Now that I'm on my own, I'm not afraid to go back and check around once, twice maybe thrice!

  • Ana Varela

    The flat screen in my room... had been thrown out in an alley. My nightstand had been poking out of a dumpster. Definitely not afraid to convert someones "trash" into my treasures!

  • Victoria Lepore

    So far, nothing I've taken from someone else's trash has had any unwanted pests (knock on wood!) Sometimes people just throw out some really great stuff. If you think it's too good to be true, check anyway!

    • Adele Peters

      Yeah, I've had luck as well...it's amazing what gets thrown out. I've picked up everything from an intricately carved Chinese wooden chair in LA's Chinatown, to my favorite pair of boots (found on the roadside in a Swedish town). So far, I've just been reusing things, though, and have yet to find the perfect thing to upcycle into something new...

      • Victoria Lepore

        Wow! You should see what gets discarded on college campuses at the end of the semester/year... most of it is totally reusable, but kids either don't want it or can't take it back with them. My school has started making more of an effort to collect these items for donation, but it's so overwhelming!

  • pfletch

    Take a bikeride and see what you find. Over the yrs, I have collected useable tools, gloves, bungees, etc. to assist with cleaning up the paths we drive on. Be careful to park your ride away from traffic then retrieve the found goodie when it's clear.

  • Anna Spisak

    My design partner and I—we call our joint creative ventures "The WKND Project" (thewkndproject.com)—are currently working on a Kickstarter campaign called "Fifty50." We've taken thrifted and salvaged T-shirts and are giving them a second life by screen-printing new designs over the ones that are already there. The designs we've created are a bit edgy, humorous and attention-grabbing, and we've taken great care to pair the art we've made with the art that's already printed on our found shirts.

    The fashion industry is in desperate need of an eco-overhaul. Factories that produce synthetic fabrics pollute the environment with thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals like petroleum every year. And cheaply made "fast-fashion" clothing gets used up, worn out and sent away to die in landfills more quickly than you can say "Forever 21."

    In an age of overabundance, novelty should no longer be what we are seeking. Everything we could possibly dream up and more is available for us to consume—oftentimes even in 3 or 4 different color ways—and the onus is now on us to seek quality over convenience or quantity.

    Companies like Reformation in NY are creating their lines entirely from upcycled and deadstock fabrics, and we could all take a lesson from their lead. We should all make a conscious effort and challenge ourselves to become more sustainable consumers and seek out companies who are reducing, reusing and rethinking the things that hang in our closets, lie in our drawers and adorn our bodies.

    • April McMillan

      I tried to check out the website but there seems to be no way to get past the landing page :(

  • Carelia Norton

    My upcycling is on a smaller scale. I made some reusable cloth produce bags from old sheets, and some shopping bags from old t-shirts. I made a soft insulated lunch bag from an old t-shirt. I made a plush animal for my son, and reused the stuffing from an old pillow. I made some hats out of old t-shirts.

  • Deborah Merriam

    I collaborated with a carpenter friend to create a table. The top is one of those inspirational posters laminated onto medium-density fiberboard, found at Goodwill, which I covered in a mosaic of used wine corks. My collection of corks came from donations to my city's ReUse Centre, but if you don't have such a resource, try asking them to save them for you at a local restaurant or wine shop. The mosaic was adhered with white glue. My talented friend had a cache of cedar salvaged from the destruction of partially-rotted fences and decks, and he used these to build the rest of the table.

    • Adele Peters

      Very cool. Do you have a link to picture, by any chance? I'd love to see it.

  • Enjoy Karma

    Upcycling is not just a great idea...it is necessary for reducing our impact. Many people don't realize what you can make out of old things! Take for instance pallets. As a business, we have leftover pallets, and instead of merely throwing them away, we are going to make them into outdoor furniture! There are many things to upcycle...just in your own house! I can name many items...jeans, t-shirts, bicycle parts, etc. What are some of your sources you get for upcycling ideas?

    • Jeanne Kays

      Pallets are great! A local business leaves their pallets curbside for people to grab for free. I made an instant "deck" for my container garden out of the sturdier pallets.