Since I wrote Philanthropy of Dirt last week, I have been giving a lot of thought to the basic premise of, “what if?” In that blog post, we asked the question, “What if neighborhoods banded together to convert their wasteful front lawns into viable gardens?” I dubbed the converted landscape, “the yarden.” The yarden takes a vain, wasteful landscape and turns it into a viable, valuable resource. While writing it, I didn’t make the connection that a yarden is actually an unconventional example of upcycling. 

Wikipedia defines upcycling as, “the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or a higher environmental value.” 

Once we get past the predictable, imminent argument over whether or not a lawn is wasteful or useless, we can have a more productive discussion about the inarguable advantages of upcycling.

Upcycle vs. Recycle
Upcycling is to improve that which already exists into something even better. If, in the process, you are returning materials back to a usable form without degradation, you are upcycling. In a sense, by improving the spent resources you move them “up” the value chain. Upcycling gives an item a better value or purpose.

Recycling reuses like materials for like purposes by breaking them down, reprocessing them and giving them new life as the same or similar item it originally was. Both are valuable strategies in sustainability; they simply serve different purposes. 

♦Returning plastic drinking bottles – recycling
♦Building a greenhouse out of plastic drinking bottles – upcycling

♦Returning bundled cardboard – recycling
♦Building a cardboard birdhouse – upcycling

Here are a few of my own:

Bunny Hutch to Raised-bed-4Converted Bunny Hutch
When Cottonball (our first bunny) died, I decided to upcycle her old, dilapidated bunny hutch into a viable raised-bed garden. Using most of the old materials from the hutch, and $40 worth of new materials, I built a raised-bed garden in its place, taking full advantage of the enriched soil beneath her hutch.
Upcycle Rating (out of 5): for aesthetic and environmental improvementsCould have been 5 if I had found some re-purposed 2×6’s instead of buying new.

PatioUsed Brick and Joint Sand
Destined for the landfill, I snagged some broken firepit bricks from a nearby commercial construction site, and as an added bonus I found a few buckets of joint sand beneath the bricks. I built a brick walkway in a part of my yard where grass wouldn’t grow, improving the look of the yard and no longer wasting water and fertilizer trying to grow grass.
Upcycle Rating (out of 5): 5 for aesthetic and environmental improvements- Water savings, landfill relief, and $0 cost for materials.

Tree Stumps 2Tree Stumps as Garden Seats
My garden is organic in more ways than one. These tree stumps from a tree felled long ago, are a good example of that. With little effort and NO prep work, I simply plopped them down in an area of my garden where I like to hang out. Upcycle? Check!
Upcycle Rating (out of 5): 5 for aesthetic and environmental improvements- Creating furniture out of nothing, $0 cost, not burning or chipping the wood.

Take a stroll around your garden, and let us know how you embrace upcycling in your world? Leave your comments below.


This article is the 21st in a series of 26 consecutive articles, as part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge for the whole month of April. Tomorrow, I’ll post an article with a title that begins with the letter “V”… So goes the rest of the alphabet, through the end of the month.




2 thoughts on “Upcycling

  1. I hate to admit that I buy salad in the winter that comes in those big clear plastic clam shell containers.
    I plan to use those containers as cover and mini greenhouses for the salad mix seeds I purchased from Burpees. The clear plastic will let the sun in, keep weed seeds out and protect my salad greens from wind, rain and a cold evening.
    I also use my old Christmas trees as bean poles.

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