Upcycling: Giving New Life To Things We Can’t Recycle

What happens to most of the stuff we drop in our council recycling bins?

Glass jars, steel and aluminium cans get be turned back into new glass jars, steel and aluminium cans. Plastics, however, mostly get down-cycled – turned into lower value products that may not be further recyclable. Then there’s all the stuff we can’t put in the recycling bin, things like toothpaste tubes, plastic bags and old electrical goods. The majority of these just end up in landfill.

Upcycling The Un-Recyclable

For some types of waste there’s another option – upcycling. This is the process of turning waste into something that is of better quality, greater usefulness, higher value, or that reduces the demand for new raw materials. Sometimes it happens on a small scale with craftspeople taking what would otherwise be waste and creating new, useful items or works of art with it. There are also companies that are working on a bigger scale.

One is TerraCycle. Originating in the United States, TerraCycle now operates in over 20 countries, including Australia and New Zealand. The company mainly focuses on turning different types of single use packaging into more durable products such as carry bags, backpacks, furniture and flowerpots. In its quest to recycle the un-recyclable, TerraCycle has even tackled cigarette butts! Around the world, TerraCycle has now recycled and upcycled over four billion pieces of ‘un-recyclable’ waste.

Opportunities Everywhere

Cyrus Kabiru in Nairobi, Kenya turns e-waste into wearables and art. Gardens provide plenty of opportunities for upcycling. Everything from kitchen utensils to car tyres and egg cartons can be put to good use in greening up the backyard. And speaking of car tyres, check out some of the great bags made by the appropriately named Upcycled in Byron Bay. Upswitch in Melbourne make lamps from old microscopes, sleepers, and other discarded materials.

Upcycling doesn’t need to be complicated. A coat of paint can turn an old bit of furniture into a stunning feature piece for the lounge or bedroom. And what about all those plastic bags that can’t go in the council bin? Just look out for the Redcycle bins at Coles and Woolworths. Pop in your plastic bags and they’ll come back as durable outdoor furniture and signage.

Think Before You Toss

Terracycle and other upcyclers demonstrate how nearly everything can be recycled, though it isn’t always economically viable to do so. Ultimately, however, a truly sustainable economy will need to recycle everything. Many clever people are already working towards that goal, constantly developing new recycling solutions for the many types of waste that can’t be put in council recycling bins. So before tossing something in the rubbish bin, do a quick Internet search to see if there are any recycling options in your area.

Recycling and upcycling are only part of the solutions to our waste problem, so keep in mind the other Rs:

  • Refuse
  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Repurpose

Only when those possibilities are exhausted is it time to think about upcycling and recycling.

Solutions For Large Scale Recycling

If you’re a business dealing with larger quantities of battery, lighting or electronic waste, then recycling is often a much better option. Get in touch with us on 1300 32 62 92 or fill out the form below, and one of our experts will be pleased to design an integrated recycling solution for your business.



Title Image Credit: Upswitch – Melbourne based business that upcycles old materials to make lamps.

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