Guest Blog: What's even better than recycling? Upcycling!


By Leanna Reece

Hipcycle Scholar at


This is a guest blog from Hipcycle, a recent Earth Day exhibitor on the National Mall.

If you are reading this post, you are most likely already taking steps toward “greening” your lifestyle. Recycling has become easier than ever, with curbside recycling in many cities and recycling bins in almost all public areas. Turning off the lights when you’re not in a room is a no-brainer, and buying a fuel-efficient vehicle can save both natural resources and a decent chunk of change.

These are all wonderful choices that you can be assured are indeed making a difference... But wait, there’s more!

Sure, living off the grid in a home made out of glass bottles with your own organic garden sounds nice, but it’s simply not possible for most of us. What more could anyone possibly do?

Go check out your recycling bin. Really. Go take a look. You most likely have some glass, plastic, and paper. Right now, these are all destined for a recycling facility where they will be sorted and reduced to some sort of pulp or malleable liquid. This material will then be formed into a useful item, to be packaged and shipped to a retail facility where it will be placed in a plastic bag and carried to a new home. Pretty common knowledge, right?

However, when you really think about this process from an energy standpoint, it puts a different perspective on things. Energy to be transported multiple times, energy to be sorted and reduced, energy to form it into something useful, energy required for packaging.... makes you wonder if there is something even better, right? Enter: Upcycling!

Most of us can remember making “trash into treasure” as a child. While the process was certainly of value, the finished products still looked like... trash. THIS is not upcycling. The trash has not been given a purpose or increased in value, but rather just been modified into alternate trash.

Upcycling, on the other hand, takes trash and adds value and/or use to it. Taking that wine bottle and making it into a light provides it with a purpose (lighting) and adds value (hey, it’s a light!). Pulling the pages out of that book that was literally falling apart and making them into flowers? While paper flowers may not be useful, they are certainly much more valuable than a decrepit book!

Granted, it takes some energy to make upcycled items, but certainly less than recycling. So with this new perspective, go through that recycling bin again – you never know what creative idea you may be struck with!

However, if inspiration eludes you, there are many artists getting on in the upcycling movement and looking for “new” material. Consider posting a box of wine bottles, scrap fabric, or whatever else you have on Craiglist or Freecycle. Drop it off at a craft recycling swap. And if those don’t pan out, by all means, recycle it – but upcycle first!

And when you upcycle something, make sure to go to and register it as an Act of Green!

Leanna Reece is Hipcycle Scholar at Hipcycle.