Summer School: 5 Ways to Reuse and UpCycle Your Stuff

Reuse Upcycling Recycling Rubicon Global Sustainable Summer School

Reuse Upcycling Recycling Rubicon Global Sustainable Summer School

What is the best way to reduce waste? If you’re thinking – RECYCLE – you are… really close…

The creation of tangible newness requires a great amount of energy, and in turn creates waste – raw materials have to be harvested, fabricated, distributed, and transported. Because of this process, the number one way to reduce waste is not to create any to begin with!

What a novel idea. If you don’t build it, it won’t become waste…

So if we aren’t building, in an attempt to reduce waste, how do we do basic things such as redecorate our offices or build our furniture without polluting, harvesting raw materials, expending energy, or producing greenhouse gases?

Answer: Reuse and Upcycle

The benefits of reusing and upcycling are reason enough to make a change. By preventing pollution, saving energy, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to protecting the environment for future generations, saving money, and keeping waste out of landfills, reusing and upcycling just make sense.

Here are 5 best practices to bring newness to your life without the waste: 

1. Buy Used/Borrow

Used does not mean less. This is something all consumers should strive to understand. When it comes to items such as clothing, building materials, and electronics, used can meet or exceed expectations while saving you money.

Buying used helps your local community thrive, helps you diversify, and is usually accompanied by good customer service. There is also the benefit of finding what you are looking for at a fraction of the “new” price.

Second-hand stores aren’t the only places to shop for used goods anymore. Here are some resources providing easily searchable used items:

An incredible money saving alternative to buying used is to borrow, rent or share! This is a great option for infrequently used items such as tools, social event items, or decorations. Most communities have platforms for inquiry such as Nextdoor. Find yours today!

2. Repurpose

The next time you start tossing items during a cleaning purge, take a moment to give your “waste” a second look. Many household items that have no apparent value can be repurposed to breath new life into them. This will keep waste out of landfills while keeping money in your pocket.

Here are some ideas of ways to reinvent your waste:

  • Single-use condiment packets (mustard, ketchup, soy sauce) can become useful cool packs after a little time in the freezer.
  • Empty wine bottles make great candle holders.
  • Old kitchen tongs can be useful lemon/lime squeezers.
  • Eyeglass cases are great for jewelry storage.
  • Slice wine corks and stick them on the inside corners of cupboard doors to prevent slamming, or stick them to the bottom of chair legs to prevent floor scuffing.

3. Buy Reusable

Not everything can be repurposed. So when making new purchases think about their future. Shift your purchasing to items you will have for a significant amount of time. Buying in bulk with reusable containers is a great way to achieve this on a weekly basis, for example.

When buying bigger items (like appliances) do your research. Remember – great reviews might not always reflect durability and quality.

4. Maintain or Repair

Many high-quality products are meant to have longevity. Simple maintenance and repair can extend the longevity of products like clothing, tires, and appliances.

5. Donate

The old saying, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, is so true. When the time comes to really let go of unwanted items such as clothing, tools, appliances, furniture, or electronics, donate them instead of dumping them. Donating not only reduces waste but also helps others in your community. Many donation-based organizations provide jobs, education, and opportunities to those in need.

Local faith groups, thrift stores, schools, and nonprofit organizations often accept a wide variety of donated items. Here are some donation resources the EPA has gathered to help you with your donations:


For the complete step-by-step guide to implementing a successful waste and recycling program, click here.