Repurposing, Recycling and Upcycling Differences Explained

Making something new out of something that is old is a popular way to be frugal. There are several different terms to describe this process which can make it confusing to know what the differences are. You’ve probably heard the phrases recycle, repurpose and upcycle used interchangeably but they are not all exactly the same thing. Even though similar, each activity is unique and is defined in a certain way. To end all of that confusion, I will explain all of the differences between recycling, repurposing and upcycling along with the benefits of each.

repurposing vs upcycling vs recycling

When you are a crafty person anyway, there is no cheaper way to come up with craft materials than by using what you have. You’ll start to look differently at all of your trash and outdated decor. Once you begin to see the possibilities with all of that old stuff, you may even find yourself taking up a new hobby of dumpster diving! After all, one person’s trash can be another person’s treasure.

Related: How To Decorate Without Spending Money

What Is Recycling?

Recycling is the process of taking trash materials and manufacturing them into a new product. For instance, instead of throwing away a plastic bottle with the rest of your trash, you throw it into a recycle bin. Then, the plastic is collected and sent to a manufacturing plant and made into something completely different.

Another option is to save those trash items for yourself to make something with. This is an especially frugal idea to use for kids’ crafts. It’s a way of recycling that is more like repurposing.

What Are Recycled Crafts?

recycled crafts

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Recycled crafts are any craft project that uses everyday trash materials such as plastic bottles, tin cans, toilet paper rolls and egg cartons to name a few. You are keeping the trash out of the landfills and making it into something else. Basically, it is repurposing with throw-away trash materials.

What Are The Benefits Of Recycling?

  1. Reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills.
  2. Protects ecosystems and wildlife.
  3. Saves money.
  4. Prevents pollution.
  5. Conserves natural resources.

Things You Can Recycle For Crafts

  • plastic – bottles, jars, spray bottles
  • aluminum – cans
  • cardboard – toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, boxes
  • egg cartons
  • bottle caps
  • wine corks
  • junk mail, newspaper, magazines
  • glass – wine bottles, jars, soda bottles

What Is Repurposing?


Repurposed Drawer and Ikea Plant Stand

Repurposing is similar to recycling except that instead of making something out of trash items you make something new out of an old item. For instance, an old sweater that can no longer be worn could be made into a pillow. Or, an old rain boot could become a fun planter.

What Are The Benefits Of Repurposing?

  1. Get a longer life from your purchases.
  2. Save money on creating a new item versus purchasing.
  3. Reduces waste in landfills.

What Can You Repurpose?

You really can repurpose anything! All it takes is a little creativity and thinking outside the box to make something new. However, there are some things that have been pretty popular to repurpose. Here is a list of common items.

  • Clothing – Shirts, sweaters, denim and flannel are great for pillows or anything that you would normally purchase fabric for. Accessories like buttons, denim pockets and lace trim are fun to put on book covers, pillows or anything that could use some fun embellishment.
  • Shoes/Boots – Old shoes or boots make fun planters or birdhouses.
  • Old Doors and Windows – Create furniture, chalkboards, signs and more.
  • Door Knobs – Use old knobs for hooks on a wall display.
  • Books – Use both the covers and pages to create picture frames or bookmarks.
  • Dishes – Broken plates are great for using the ceramic pieces to create a mosaic stepping stone or planter. Cups, mugs and glasses can be repurposed into candle holders or planters.
  • Picture Frames/Mirrors – Make trays, chalkboards and bulletin boards.
  • Dresser Drawers – Drawers can easily be transformed into rolling under-bed storage or as a tabletop or even a pet bed.

What Is Upcycling?


Upcycled Dresser Into Home Bar

Upcycling is basically enhancing a new product to give it a higher value. It could be as simple as giving furniture a makeover. It’s different than repurposing in that the use of the item stays basically the same but is made better. For instance, a dresser that is made into a bar still functions like a dresser but has the added feature of a bar counter. The drawers of the dresser could still be used to hold clothes or hold glassware instead.

What Are The Benefits Of Upcycling?

  1. Save money.
  2. Create something of higher value from something you no longer like.
  3. Get satisfaction from enhancing what you already own.

Repurposing vs. Recycling vs. Upcycling

In a nutshell, repurposing and upcycling are similar in that they are making changes to an existing product. The difference is that repurposing turns something old into a completely new product with a new use. Upcycling simply enhances a product while maintaining its function.

Recycling, for the most part, is separating out your plastic, aluminum and cardboard to be collected and sent out to be melted down to a raw product to be made into something else. As far as craft projects go, recycled crafts take those items set out for recycling to make something new with.

The difference between recycling and repurposing in crafts is in the material used. Trash items are for recycled crafts and old household items are used in repurposed crafts.

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Creating rustic styling on a budget by giving new life to old things and using the beauty that is already found in nature. Read more about me.