Upcycling is kind of similar to recycling in that you are reusing an item. But with recycling, an item is often broken down in some way, making it less than it was before, whereas upcycling is just as the name suggests…taking an item “up” a notch and making it something more than it was before. While the benefits of living a sustainable lifestyle and repurposing our waste are being beaten into us, others see an awful lot of upcycling drawbacks. So, in order to provide the best information possible, we must include both sides – the pros and cons of garden upcycling.
Upcycling Pros – Reasons to Upcycle in the Garden
(Nikki’s viewpoint) I love to upcycle, especially in the garden. Why? Let me count the ways, as the benefits of garden upcycling are bountiful, and anyone can reap from these rewards.
Saves money and reduces waste. This should just be a given. It doesn’t cost much at all to improve upon something, but it will get costly having to haul it off to the landfill. Take my son’s old truck bed liner, for example. This large eyesore could have costed us some money hauling it off to the dump, but why spend money when you don’t have to? With some drainage holes and the addition of some beautiful plants, this became the foundation for a backyard tropical oasis instead. Same thing for those huge truck tires. Some paint, some plants and some ingenuity, and an attractive dinosaur garden was created. Simple things like this can greatly reduce waste in landfills and beyond.
Great chance to be creative. Upcycling in the garden also gives you the chance to let those creative juices flow. Don’t have a creative bone? Yes, you do. Everyone does. Don’t overthink it too much. You can make upcycling as simple or complex as your artistic abilities can handle. Got an old terra cotta container that’s cracked or broken and ready to be tossed? Give it new life and another purpose as part of a fairy garden. How about those wine bottles piling up? Sure, you could haul them to the recycling center, but why not turn them into unique edging or create a bottle tree with them instead? Anything goes – it’s your creation.
Visually pleasing conversation piece. Taking something used up, broken or downright ugly and sprucing it up into something beautiful and purposeful in the garden can be a visually appealing asset to the garden. It can also become an interesting conversation piece. I once took an old desk and refurbished it into a unique planter. Many people have commented on it as they pass by. I also have a teapot turned planter/wind chime combo – a gift my daughter-in-law made. Dresser drawers have found new life housing plants in the garden after a previous life storing clothes.
Preserves precious mementos. Another reason to upcycle in the garden is preserving memories, or maybe even history. I have old rain boots from my daughter and toys that once belonged to my son. They’re grown now, but these trinkets can be found amongst the plants in the garden, some even spilling out their own flora. Each time I’m out there, it brings me joy, as those fond memories of their childhood antics live on in a different way.
Cons of Garden Upcycling – Gardening Upcycling Drawbacks
(Amy’s viewpoint) I know that upcycling is supposed to result in turning our trash into something useful or even beautiful, but too often the results look pretty disastrous, pretty much like the rubbish they started off as. And that isn’t my only upcycling beef.
Upcycled items cannot always be recycled. Upcycling is touted as an extension of recycling. It is changing or customizing an item to reuse in a different way than what the item was intended for. Okay, that sounds pretty good, but the fact is that sometimes the objects that have been upcycled can no longer be recycled. For instance, if you upcycle toilet paper rolls and transform them into holiday napkin rings but in the process painted them with toxic paints and rolled them in glitter, are they still recyclable? I think not.
Most are not attractive and return to junkyard. Many of the dearths of projects for upcycling that can be found seem to be, well, pretty crappy, either designed for children or those without an iota of artistic talent or taste for that matter. Once you’ve created your upcycled masterpiece and realize it’s a piece of crap, what do you plan to do with it? How long are you going to hang onto it before it finds its way into the trash bin? The concern here is that upcycling becomes less of a green, sustainable activity and instead just a delay to the landfill.
There better ways to reduce waste. Really, when I think about it, the major upcycling negative is that it depends on our failure to reduce our use of things we now have to upcycle. For instance, is it really saving the planet by upcycling plastic bottles into feeders or planters? A better idea might be to quit drinking soda.
Acquiring more “junk” material is never ending. Also, it’s likely that the crafty upcycler will still buy new stuff, which is sort of a non-renewable idea. We often buy stuff just because we want it, not because we need it, which I guess perversely for the upcycling proponent just means more usable upcyclable material. In the end, I see upcycling as a rather twisted excuse.
Weighing the Garden Upcycling Negatives Against the Pros
You may agree with some of the upcycling negatives presented here but, overall, the benefits of garden upcycling seem to far outweigh any drawbacks. Sure, if you want to save the planet by minimizing your footprint, you can use less and be mindful about the things you purchase. If everyone gave a second thought before impulsively buying, there would be little need for activities like garden upcycling, let alone recycling. But that’s not realistic. There will always be “stuff,” much of which ends up in landfills or backyards taking up space and cluttering the environment. Recycling is great, but if you can put a creative spin to some of these items and find other uses for them in the garden, what’s wrong with that?