Upcycle vs. Upgrade

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” this is the central maxim of upcycling. Upcycling is a new term that refers to repurposing used, old items into new useful items. The word is a portmanteau of “upgrade” and “recycle.” Whereas recycling denotes breaking down used items, such as grinding old cabinets into wood pulp, an upcycler would take the drawer and repurpose it into a quirky cabinet. Therefore, upcycling reduces excess waste while retaining the integrity of the original product.

“For example, during the recycling process of plastics other than those used to create bottles, many different types of plastics are mixed, resulting in a hybrid. This hybrid is used in the manufacturing of plastic lumber applications. However, unlike the engineered polymer ABS which hold properties of several plastics well, recycled plastics suffer phase-separation that causes structural weakness in the final product.” From Wikipedia




The main goal of upcycling is to minimize waste through repurposing used objects. Creative decorators and designers may find several applications for empty shoeboxes, liquor bottles and even toilet paper tubes. Old junk can find new life after they’ve been scrapped from their intended use. With a few wood pallets, you can have your own cinema seating for your home theater!

Taken from upcyclethat.com

An upcycled shoebox with a magnifying glass can be turned into a home projector!

taken from bottle-lamp.com

Jack Daniels Lamp

taken from thingiverse.com

If you’ve got a 3D printer, stop throwing away those tubes!

taken from upcyclethat.com by

A home theater with stadium seating made from wood pallets by Simone Tasca

When to Upcycle:

If you’re strapped for cash, but have time, trash, and some creativity on your hands you can reclaim almost anything and repurpose it. There’s plenty of free scrap wood, and wooden pallets to be had for cheap. Garage sales and walking through neighborhoods may turn up precious materials that can be fabricated into something new and interesting.

When to Upgrade:

Typically, computers and other electronics cannot be upcycled. After they’ve come to the end of their life cycle, they must be upgraded  to keep up with technological advancements. iPhones may have not found an upcycled use, but some of the older Apple desktops have been transformed into fishbowls, dubbed “macquariums.” Fashioned from the colorful iMacs of the early aughts, these aquariums can be bought, or even made (assuming you’ve got an old iMac lying around).

Macquarium made from a G3 iMac

Notable Upcyclers:

One of the most inspiring upcyclers I’ve found was a trash-collector-turned-luthier named Nicolas Gomez. Living on top of a landfill in Cateura, Paraguay, Nicolas, who goes by “Don Cola,” was approached by Favio Hernan Chavez Moran to start the Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados de Cateura (roughly translates to Recycled Orchestra of Cateura). The orchestra was an offshoot of the Sonidos de la Tierra, a youth program that aims to fight child delinquency by creating musical institutions for the severely impoverished. The Recycled Orchestra is the brainchild of Maestro Szaran who wanted to reach out to the marginalized kids and develop their sense of self esteem and keep them away from trouble.

taken from landfillharmonicmovie.com

Don Cola with an upcycled violin and guitar


Don Cola had never even heard of Mozart when he began making instruments. Moran had given him a violin as a reference piece to create instruments for the orchestra. In Paraguay, a well-made violin could cost more than a home, but even though Don Cola’s creates necks of various stringed instruments from wood the musical equipment is affordable. Cola finds junk around his hometown’s dump to upcycle into violas made from roasting pans, cello bodies made of oil barrels, and saxophone buttons made from discarded bottle caps.


Although the recycled gear may not replicate the sweet tones of a Stradivarius violin, it is inspiring to see kids take pride in their ability to band together and play in an orchestra.  To find out more about the Recycled Orchestra, visit their website or support their movie here.



A Trailer for the Landfill Harmonic Movie

South America isn’t the only region to convert scraps of waste into musical instruments. Wallace Detroit Guitars are taking wood from condemned homes and creating electrical guitars. They process the wood, removing studs and blemishes before piecing them together to make a body.

An Upcycled Guitar made from reclaimed wood from abandoned Detroit homes



About the Wallace Detroit Guitar Company

Next time you’re about to take out the trash, take a second and imagine the possibilities of upcycling it. Not only would it save you money, but it will help minimize what ends up in our landfills. Don’t just recycle, upcycle!

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