To say upcycling is a craze is maybe not true. It’s really popular, which is great, but the only reason for it not being quite a craze is that most upcycling goes completely unnoticed. And in a way that’s the beauty of it – that something new can be made out of something old and manage to do its new job so well that you might not even think twice about it having been upcycled. To be honest, upcycling is something that I’ve only really started to notice recently. It’s kind of like the small crack in your car windscreen, or a ticking clock when you’re trying to sleep, or that really annoying way your partner slurps the milk off the spoon after finishing all the cereal out the bowl. Once you’ve noticed it for the first time it’s impossible to stop noticing it every time it happens.
I was having a beer with a friend in an Edinburgh pub just off the meadows. I sat down, put my pint on the table and noticed that the glass was on its side and the contents were everywhere, because what should have been a table was actually a horizontal door with four legs attached; a massive arched-top church-style door and the surface was not flat and therefore not beverage-holder friendly. But it did look pretty cool. Since then I’ve started to notice upcycled tables, chairs, shelves, fish tanks and a whole host of other things everywhere.
It was only after a very unsuccessful trip to Ikea that I decided I’d give it a go for myself. I’d gone along hoping to find a bookshelf. Inevitably, on the winding 6 mile hike that comes with a visit to Ikea, I suddenly realised that I needed a filing cabinet, and a desk organiser, a floor lamp, and even this small shelving unit intended solely (no pun intended) for the storage of shoes. But then I thought: hold on, why can’t I make this stuff myself? In fact, why don’t I upcycle it?
Because of course there are tonnes of advantages that come with upcycling. For one, the materials are effectively being recycled, just cutting out the middle man processes that come with recycling on a huge scale (and therefore reducing the amount of energy used in recycling centres). So money is being saved as there’s no need to transport or break down the material you’ve chosen to use any more. On the other side of things you can effectively be saving a tree from the vicious fate of being sawed into planks for a future as a Scandinavian flat-pack bookshelf. Think of all the good that tree can do: provide a home for a bird, store nuts for squirrels and carbon to help reverse global warming, produce oxygen, provide shade and storm protection, prevent flooding and soil erosion. That sort of stuff.
I thought I’d start small. No Sweden, I won’t be purchasing your reasonably priced shoe holding shelves. If you type ‘upcycle’ into google images and scroll down a bit you’ll come across a picture of what is quite simply a genius way of storing shoes. It’s literally just an upturned wooden pallet. The perfect thing for a first project as I was almost certainly not going to cut an appendage off with a saw. In fact the sharpest thing I had to use was sandpaper, and it was the most expensive thing too, coming in at 85p. The hardest part was securing a pallet. On an average walk to work I’m sure that I pass about 5 discarded pallets left in the middle of the pavement, but now that I wanted one the streets of Edinburgh were cleaner than Disneyland. I resolutely decided that I’d wait it out (my neighbour’s had a great looking pallet in their driveway, but I decided that to take it would be stealing, and it was also holding a tonne of slate). Eventually my patience was rewarded and I found a pallet leaning against a dustbin next to my local Costcutter. This was fair game. I took it. It was surprisingly heavy.
Needless to say I made my shoe-shelf, and it was way more fun to make (and actually easier) than assembling anything from flat-pack. Plus, upon completion it came with a sense of satisfaction comparable to filling in a crossword without help or finally finishing Les Miserables. Since making the shoe-shelves I’ve also completed a desk organiser, also out of a discarded pallet. I now grab every pallet I lay eyes on. I have stacks of them under my bed, which is great as my bedroom smells like pine sap – one thing Ikea furniture lacks. I’ve got tea pot pen holders and a ladder shelf. In fact, for me, it might be fair to say that upcycling has become sort of a craze. If you haven’t already, maybe it’s time to give it a go too.
NCTJ qualified journalist and scientist graduate of University of Wales, Bangor.