Upcycling is on the increase, as concerns about the environment grow and the cost of living crisis bites. Newspage caught up with 22 upcycling companies based in all corners of the UK. The number of materials that are being used is mind-boggling, and ranges from coffee pods, vinyl records and cutlery headed for landfill, to old phones, car wheels and even the spare legs of mannequins in skips.
23 responses from the Newspage community
"I upcycle reclaimed furniture with unique ink designs. It comes from a place of pure passion to create uniquely and recycle consciously. My nan definitely installed the ‘waste not want not’ attitude in me and I’ve always loved making and crafting since I was little. Watching shows like Money For Nothing made me realise I could be creative again and do it with a purpose. Giving your home a smile and the planet a hug is my mission. I think people are becoming more conscious about where they shop, who they shop with and what they are shopping for now more than ever. If my customers aren’t buying an upcycled piece from me, they are commissioning me to upcycle a piece they already own or I've inspired them to do it themselves. Upcycling has definitely become more mainstream, in fact I think it’s already there. Upcycling doesn’t just have to be about painting old pieces of furniture it can be about creating a new purpose, like turning a tea cup into a plant pot. The possibilities really are endless, it just needs a little imagination, some creativity and the ‘waste not want not’ attitude if we want to give a little love back to Mother Nature. I think it’s clear to see how important it is, making small changes now will change the bigger picture in the future."
"I initially learned silversmithing because I wanted to be able to make finger splints for my disability. But I've always collected antiques and vintage items, so I soon started upcycling solid silver cutlery into jewellery. Very few people use silver sugar tongs or mustard spoons nowadays, and I love the thought that I can give them a new life and relevance as wearable art. I think the concept of reinventing them into something that's better suited to the modern world reflects my own experience of having to adapt to society as a disabled person, too. Some people can immediately spot that my jewellery is upcycled; others are amazed when I point it out. People are much more conscious of waste and disposable fashion than they used to be, and they definitely like the fact that I'm upcycling. Obviously, using solid silver antiques means that my raw materials aren't cheap so neither is my jewellery. But customers know they're getting a piece that will last a lifetime and beyond, which is far better for the environment than buying costume jewellery that will end up in landfill."
"If I have a need for something, anything my family or non-profit needs, I look to see if I can gain it second hand. If I can't I then ask 'how can I make it and what have I got that I can make it from'? To help support my non-profit - New Forest Aquaponics cic - I make Genius Cleaning Cloths from old T-shirts and towels. Genius Cleaning cloths appeared in my life 18 years ago. My oldest son was in cloth nappies and a friend had made me some double-sided cloth wipes for his bottom. It occured to me I could use these for cleaning more than just his bottom! So I did! After making a few adjustments on fabrics to use, a rougher side was needed for cleaning up pans after my cooking! My cleaning cloths were born. When a friend saw them, she asked if I could supply her with enough for her small cleaning business, and I realised people may just want to buy them. When I got a call to supply another cleaner, I was asked for those 'genius cloths' you make and so the name was born. This meant I had to source enough material, without affecting my principles. Having a sister working in a charity shop is my source for the towels, it seems people are very fussy with towels and this provides a plentiful supply. Enough T-shirts wasn't quite so easy, until I discovered clothes swaps. That was 10 years ago and I haven't bought any new clothes since, clothing my whole family from clothes swaps - apart from shoes. You never find adult size-15 shoes second hand. The issues around our clothing are huge, and devastating to our world. To help with this I have now started Waterside Clothes Swaps, along with another local passionate upcycler, not just to help us with materials, but our local community with the delights of a new wardrobe for free, that doesn't harm our world, and helps with clothing poverty. "For many years, to new customers, I have had to explain why buying plastic cleaning sponges and cloths is a bad idea - for your pocket, for the environment and for society. These days most people understand at least one of these, if not two of them. I still have a way to go with increasing the understanding of how your choice of cleaning cloth has an effect on society, but even so, people are willing to at least listen to even if they leave with more questions than they could ever imagine over the impact their cleaning cloths have on our world."
"My passion is to upcycle denim. I repurpose current denim jackets, jeans and skirts by enhancing their beauty with stitch and fabric. I also use second-hand denim jeans and create upcycled aprons, collars and patches. After taking early retirement due to ill health (severe depression), I returned to sewing aided by my mum’s in-depth knowledge and experience. I also share my knowledge and skills in workshops for adults and children focusing on wellbeing. I believe that more people are becoming interested in upcycling but the importance needs to be made more visible and reach all walks of life. This will increase the importance and hopefully the enjoyment. Upcycling is important because it takes far too much water (10,000 litres) to produce just one pair of jeans. We all should buy less, wear longer, buy second hand or repurposed. We really need to try and stop large clothing companies producing extremely harmful, poor quality clothes. We, as consumers, should take some responsibility and question the reasons why we are purchasing any clothing, especially something so cheap."
I got into making furniture out of reclaimed materials in around 2005 and set up Rackham Industries after getting bored of working as a drum and bass producer in Bristol. I swapped my studio for a workshop and I only recently realised the similarities between the two trades:- As a drum and bass producer I used to spend a lot of time in junk shops looking for old records and videos that may have snippets of sound I could use as the basis for a project. As an Upcyclist I spend that same time in scrap yards, demolition sites and reclaimer's yards, still hunting for trash that I can turn into treasure. In the last ten years I've done everything from Veg Shop fit-outs to displays for London Fashion Week, in a style which would be best described as Industrial / Retro. During this time I also trained as an electrician which means I'm now able to produce lighting installations, one of my favourites is a matching set of lampshades made from fire extinguishers for The Hydrant in London, along with some standard lamps made from antique fire buckets and water piping from the site of the original Douglas Motorcycle factory in Bristol. Being invited by the owner to clear that place out prior to demolition was one of the high points of my career as an Upcyclist so far, I made some fabulous pieces with reclaimed materials from that building. Currently my time is spent running the Facebook group NOT ON AMAZON which I originally set up during lockdown in 2020 as a way to sell some of the framed engineer's drawing extracts that I'd been working on, that project used up some of the hundreds of original pencil on acetate engineer's drawings that I found to my amazement in the Douglas Building and a stack of old packing crate timber. NOT ON AMAZON took off in a completely unexpected way and today we have over 193,000 members plus a number of offshoot groups and a Community Interest Company but recently I have just managed to squeeze in some time back at my workbench and the time I've spent away from it has given me a new perspective and lots of ideas, not to mention the massive pile of junk that's been accumulating around my workshop. There are plenty more new products coming from Rackham Industries in 2022 and I couldn't be more stoked!!
"I'll upcycle almost anything I can get my hands on to make lamps and furniture, from old phones and used car wheels to the spare legs of mannequins in a skip. Whatever's headed for landfill, I'll do my best to inject it with some life. I got into upcycling because of a need to do something meaningful, for my home and our planet. There's definitely a rapidly growing interest in upcycling, and more and more people are bringing me random stuff to turn into lamps or furniture. Upcycling is 100% starting to become more mainstream, but it's important that it doesn't become 'shabby-chic' and have the soul ripped out of it. Together with tackling climate change, we need to repair and upcycle as much as possible, to halt the ever faster turning wheel of consumerism."
"I upcycle old, warped and scratched vinyl records that are destined for landfill. This started after my husband, who is a record collector, took a gamble on a charity shop record (Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield), but it was too scratched up to play. Instead of putting it in the bin, I decided to paint a mandala on it and an obsession was born. I hate the thought of vinyl going into landfill. Even if the record can’t make music anymore, I hope that, when painted, it can still bring joy to someone and deliver a visual rather than audio pleasure. Since selling my art, I’ve been shocked at the number of people that have said they’ve taken loads of records to the tip as no one was interested in them. I’ve now been donated many and have several big boxes in the garage waiting to be upcycled. If you've got old records that are headed for the tip, send them my way instead and I'll bring them back to life."
"I upcycle old CDs and DVDs. I got into it when I was having a clear-out of a lifetime's worth of useless "stuff". When it came to my collection of CDs and DVDs, I just didn't want to bin them, not just because it would be so detrimental to dump a load of unrecyclable plastic into the environment but because I found them to be so visually interesting. You also have an emotional attachment with old CDs and that probably played a factor in my desire to keep them from landfill. I started to 'play' with them as a material and, at some point, hit on the idea of putting them on canvas. People are definitely interested in the concept of these as art objects, as well as how they 'interact' with the viewer in changing light. My business is very much in its infancy, and I haven't had many eyeballs on my work, especially in the real world where they perform the best. But, judging from people's reaction to them so far, they really do pique people's interest. I find people are definitely more on board with the idea of upcycling, especially when they see exactly what can be done to breathe new life into old, valueless items. Upcycling is so important because if we don't tap into its potential on a much larger scale, we can only continue on the downward spiral of 'throwaway' consumerism, straight down the gullet of the corporate monsters that threaten to swallow us all."
In the current cost of living crisis, upcycling is without doubt something people are becoming more aware of and, as money gets tighter for most, I think it will become even more mainstream. Historically, recycling/upcycling was done more out of necessity than choice and while some will continue to look for upcycled products due to environmental concerns, I think others will start to upcycle for themselves, hand down clothes or shop at charity shops to save money. We are in unprecedented times and upcycling is set to benefit. We're certainly seeing a lot more interest in what we do. Upcycling is something that in one way or another I've always done and something that was part of my upbringing. I even have memories of my mother using my father's old ( but washed) Y-fronts as dusters, and I use my old tea towels instead of kitchen roll. I love jewellery but over the past few years I have become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of mining for gemstones and also the amount of cheap plastic jewellery as well as the organza bags used by so many handmade jewellery makers, so I decided to make my brand different. I was already upcycling old books into jewellery so I started researching and experimenting with other materials. I really enjoy the challenge of this and how it means I can create truly individual hand crafted jewellery while minimising my impact on our planet. Materials I'm currently working with include discarded plastic bottles, plastic wrapping and bubble wrap and old DVDs, things that would usually go straight to landfill. As my young granddaughter put it: "You make rubbish jewellery because you turn rubbish into jewellery." It means saving things from landfill and I carry this through to my packaging, using paper and card along with natural raffia, and as much as possible I reuse packaging. I'm only one person with a small business but I think that not only do my customers like what I make, but it's also a way of raising awareness about the things we throw away that could be re-used. That's very important to me."
"We take cutlery destined for scrap and turn it into art. My husband was already a metal fabricator but one day back in 2017, we saw a huge box full of cutlery at the local car boot, decided to buy it and that's where our business began. There's definitely more interest in upcycling now than there was five years ago. I think people are much more aware that we go through far too much waste and energy and want to help in their own little way, whether that's buying or creating. I'm not sure it's quite at the mainstream point yet but I think it will be in the coming few years."
"We’ve been upcycling and refinishing old furniture for over a decade. Initially, we started out of necessity when moving house but it’s now become an integral part of our business. Our upcycling workshops surged in popularity over lockdown as people looked to update their homes and learn new skills. Suddenly, people had the time to try new things and reflect. Older furniture is often well made but aesthetically tired, and refinishing it can give it a new lease of life. It’s good for the planet, your pocket and, when done well, gives any home a bespoke look on a budget."
"I think the landscape is changing, with our customers actively choosing to buy into into a ‘slow fashion’ and upcycled ethos. As a business, we have always embraced the concept of ‘trash to treasure’ with our jewellery designs utilising upcycled sea glass. These pretty nuggets of colourful glass basically come from our trash, namely waste glass dumped directly into our oceans over the years. We also use upcycled sterling silver, which at some stage may have been part of electronic circuitry or some other item, which is melted down and repurposed. We find our customers very aware of environmental issues, and keen to be part of the solution rather than the problem. Invested in making a difference, they want to know the provenance of the materials used when making jewellery, and ask us the questions. This is happening more and more, and although not quite mainstream, we have certainly noticed a shift with customers unhappy to buy mass-produced ‘fast fashion’ jewellery, and instead seeking out eco-friendly jewellery made from upcycled materials."
"I have been using recycled silver and gold to make my jewellery for some time and now also remodel gold heirloom or sentimental jewellery and gemstones into new contemporary designs. During lockdown, I had a lot of enquiries from people who had the time to look at their jewellery boxes and think about pieces which they no longer wore but which had emotional significance to them. They like the idea of them being recreated into something more modern which they would like to wear and hand down. There is more awareness about sourcing ethical precious metal and gemstones with clients and upcycling unworn jewellery is one way of working more sustainably."
"I upcycle pre-loved fabrics to make plastic-free and zero waste household products and gifts. I make the most amazing products out of sari off-cuts and waterproof tablecloths, curtain sample books and remnants from my other eco products, giving these wonderful fabrics a new lease of life and saving them from landfill. I have always had an eco-friendly and zero-waste mindset and upcycling fabrics and giving them a new lease of life was something that came naturally to me. I have definitely seen a rise in people's interest in upcycling products. It's a big factor in people choosing my products. I would say that upcycling is entering the mainstream and it's something that people these days are actively looking for. People love the fact upcycled products are saving waste and protecting the planet. The amount of waste we are creating is terrifying, and upcycling is an easy solution to create less and use what is out there already. For me it's a no-brainer and I love it."
"Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world; however, it also leads to millions of coffee pods that ultimately impact the environment. At PrimaBerry, we use recycled coffee pods to make vibrant fashion jewellery, packed with colour and originality as there are so many different colours of coffee pods. Our earrings and necklaces have unique shapes and people get curious when we tell them they are made out of aluminium coffee capsules which would have ended in landfill. Our customers are happy to own unique items whilst contributing to a more earth-friendly way of living."
"When a neighbour left some old fence wire out for the scrap man, my immediate reaction was to nab it and make quirky caricatures out of it. That was the logical thing to do, after all. I now create lanky outdoorsy figures, with a fence wire structure inside, with lots of dog walkers, swimmers and climbers. I was a bit concerned that the pandemic would make people wary of buying things that weren't new and wrapped in plastic, but thankfully that's not been the case, I won't ever make a fortune but I have a nice lifestyle business. Upcycling stops so much from going into landfill and because a lot of the things I use are gifted to me, it makes people reevaluate what is waste and what might still have a purpose, if not for them then for someone like me."
Upcycling I upcycle wood and paint that is destined for landfill. I wanted to start my own business as a creative, I have always upcycled clothing and furniture so this seemed the obvious solution as well as not having capitol to invest in setting up a business this was also the cheapest option. More and more people are starting to appreciate recycling, upcycling and generally living in a more environmentally friendly way. There is so much more support for supporting small independent businesses, shopping locally, artisan makers and creative. People want something unique, niche and handmade with value. I have always loved the transformation of upcycling, finding something old and worn out rethinking it's use and turning it into something beautiful, with a new life I find totally thrilling. Chalk paint was a huge shift in the upcycling trend. For me everything has a story and a past, I love to think was was it used for, where did it come from and how many owners has something had. Like a car and owner history, wouldn't that be exciting to have that story with items so you could track their transformation and journey
"I epicycle sustainable and ethically sourced materials, such as magazines, tagua nuts, sweet tins, beer cans and beetle wings. I hate waste and, like many people, have become more and more aware of how much we use and how much we throw away. This has become even more apparent now that I have a child and see how much waste there is from the outgrown clothes to the abundance of plastic and thrown away toys out there. I try hard to buy second hand clothes and toys and my daughter and I love a trip to the charity shops. Having these values is so in line with my business and I love that I can find an item used for one purpose and make something completely different out of it. It is so satisfying when I inform customers that the accessory they have was made from a sweet tin, a used magazine, seeds, nuts or even beetle wings! "Interest in upcycling is definitely on the increase. When I started out over 10 years ago, there wasn’t the awareness of our throw away society and how much we waste. Now people talk about it all the time. It is part of the education programme. People want to be seen not buying new. "Upcycling is definitely on the cusp of the mainstream. Big companies cannot ignore it and it has become part of their ethos. They now have to advertise one of their future goals to include the environment, climate change and reusing materials to be relevant."
"I love how we are changing in the UK, with more and more people caring more about how much they need to buy, and also how much they are throwing away. We are becoming more creative about how we can repurpose belongings, even if that is just selling them on a second-hand platform. And we are getting better at upcycling within the home and that is wonderful. Sewing is my thing, and more recently, bag making. I love to upcycle pre-loved fabrics and leather. I make new leather bags from old jackets or sofas, and every bag is totally unique. I often incorporate the original elements of a jacket into the bag to make it quirky or fun, such as the jacket’s pockets. I also make clothes, cushions and anything I can re-imagine, from old curtains, duvet covers and anything else that comes my way. I’m encouraging those who know me to give me their unwanted textiles and I will create something new from them. I often get random deliveries of used fabric from friends turning up at my door. I also encourage others to have a go at upcycling, too. And I hope to be able to help others learn to sew and encourage even more creative upcycling and repurposing. I also make bags from things that hold sentimental value, such as a loved one's old leather jacket or those trousers you bought on honeymoon, but you know you won't wear again. These bags are so unique and special to make because I know they will be cherished along with the memories they evoke. I recently made 4 leather bags for all the ladies of a family from grandma's old leather chairs, plus a couple of wallets and some sunglasses cases from the small sections. I like all my sews to incorporate some repurposing and upcycling if possible. My bags are mostly upcycled, totally unique and affordable. And the leather and denim, when it does eventually end up in landfill, is biodegradable. Oh and, of course, I’ve asked friends to harvest the bag hardware from bags heading to landfill. It can so often be reused. And for those who commission a bag with their treasured belongings, they are also of massive sentimental value."
"I upcycle bailer twine, leather horse tack and whatever I can find to add to my weaving. Bailer twine can be plaited in the same way that rush can be and made into bags. Leather tack can be recycled into straps for woven bags. Broken shards of pottery can form the centre of bowls. Rusty metal and interesting sticks can be used as handles. I love adding something that I've found to my woven willow baskets, often something natural but I'd also rather re-purpose leather, whether it be a belt or horse's tack as this adds interest, too. I like to make my products as sustainable as possible, as well as keeping costs down and using what's local rather than ordering stuff in. I think that my customers like the quirkiness of what I do and it definitely appeals to 'horsey people'. It's important for all of the above reasons."
"I upcycle cards from special occasions such as wedding and birthday cards. More often than not, cards just sit in a box collecting dust so it's wonderful to be able to give them a new lease of life where they are enjoyed every day. I've also created a DIY Craft Kit so anyone can give it a go and create their own work of art using their sentimental cards. After our wedding in 2018, we received lots of cards and I wasn't sure what to do with them. I've always loved art, especially collaging, so I turned the fronts into a collage and put the written messages from inside into a handmade book. After I shared it online, people began asking me to make one with their cards and it went from there. I think people are really into decluttering these days and card upcycling is a great way to do that. My craft kits are plastic-free and eco-conscious and I'm really proud of that fact. I think upcycling and being kind to the environment go hand in hand. Upcycling has always been a part of my life and is something I grew up around. I think it is definitely becoming more mainstream, which is great considering how good it is for mother nature. I think the recent TV shows have helped popularise it although I think card upcycling is very unique and not particularly well known. I'm hoping to change that!"
"Upcycling is an interesting word, and often used to describe ecobricks, which I specialise in. Ecobricks are much, much more than just upcycling, though, and are a lifelong commitment to taking personal responsibility towards the things we use and consume. Ecobricks are a simple, low- tech, non-capital, plastic transition technology that follows the earth's example of carbon care. To make ecobricks, carefully fill a PET plastic bottle with clean and dry plastic wrappers etc, to a set density, to trap the plastic, and create a building block. Once you have lots of ecobricks the 'upcycling' really starts. With a minimum of 7 ecobricks you can make a stool, 12 ecobricks and a bit of earth (cob) you can have a hedgehog house. Or go bigger with 350 ecobricks and you can have a sofa and coffee table. And if you want to go super big, how about a small home made from ecobricks and cob — all of that out of the plastic you would have put in your bin! But remember, when we are upcycling regardless of what it is, we must consider the onward life of what it is we make, can it be reused to make something else when we have finished with it? When it is no longer able to be upcycled into another useful item, will it return to the earth and do no harm, or will it stay as pollution in the environment for hundreds of years? It is always fantastic to reuse and reimagine the things around us to lengthen the life of that object, but let's be careful we do not use more resources (electricity, new materials, etc) than we are saving by upcycling. As times get harder through climate crises and economic downturns around the world, upcycling and rethinking what we do with our stuff will become more important and the normal way of things."
"I work with recycled bike inner tubes. I make bags, hipbags, wallets, jewellery and clothing mixed with recycled fabric. I got into doing this through my friend who asked if I could make a wallet out of a recycled bike inner tube. I didn't know then if it was even possible but said I would give it a go. So here we are several years on. I'm not sure whether upcycling is anywhere near mainstream yet but there is definitely a growing market for it and people are more aware about upcycling and recycling. I still get customers being very surprised about what I do. Also more and more people want to buy sustainable products. Upcycling is very important and should be mainstream. There is so much material in the world already so it is just crazy to keep producing more."