The right way to ‘upcycle’ unused materials in business


Recycling has become a big business. As the world wakes up to the fact this it must look after its natural resources to preserve them for future generations, this has become a $160 billion industry and countries like Switzerland and Austria have led the way, recycling about half of their waste.

But, why stop there? Businesses might find it makes financial and ethical sense to recycle items but, at its heart, recycling is a fairly destructive process. It breaks down one material into something smaller and cheaper. Yes, it gives a future for our waste but it’s not necessarily the most satisfying one.

Upcycling is more creative and proactive

That’s where upcycling comes in. This trend has largely been seen as something that trendy people with a flair for arts and crafts do around their homes – breathing new life into their furniture, for example. It involves taking old and unwanted items and transforming them into something better or more useful.

But it’s time for businesses to grasp the nettle. There is great scope to embrace this and reap the benefits across an organisation. This is a chance to be creative, proactive and, above all, save vital money and resources that can be freed up for other purposes.

Reassess your resources

The first thing a business must do when looking to ‘upcycle’ is to conduct a thorough audit of the resources it uses. What waste is produced? What currently happens to this? What resources have to be purchased on a regular basis? What are these made of?

This process is vital as it’s all about identifying opportunities and questioning what you can do differently. From here, you need to get creative, think outside the box and be prepared to experiment.

Some businesses are able to make furniture for their office or stationery items from the sorts of things they would throw away in their warehouse, for example. This can be a nice quirky way of making a statement in your workplace and sending a message to staff and clients that you care about the environment.

Others are able to introduce new working practices that can rescue items that might have been thrown away and repurpose them on other projects.

Take construction firms. There are a great many fixtures and fittings that can be rescued and used again. A couple of years ago, Entrepreneur.com looked at how this helped US firm Hammer & Hand weather the economic storm caused by the global crash.

It employed staff to take reusable parts from construction sites – such as framing components, light fixtures and appliances. Co-founder Sam Hagerman said: “I realized we could get a beautiful pile of lumber for free and turn around and add value to it.”

He added:  “We saved the jobs of 40 people. We got creative by necessity, but we changed our business because it also makes financial sense.”

Don’t compromise on quality

Upcycling is, at its heart, about making your unwanted resources into something that is better than the sum of their parts. Quality still needs to be at the forefront of your thoughts.

Materials will have to be properly prepared for their new purpose. So that might well mean deploying blasting cabinets from Airblast AFC to prepare it for its new use. This sort of process can also come in handy if you simply want to re-brand an item of otherwise perfectly good material.

The ‘right way’ to upcycle is, therefore, to conduct a thorough review of the materials you use and the waste you produce. That review then needs to identify different ways that you can upcycle that waste into something worthwhile. This can lead to entirely new products with a practical use or a more efficient way of diverting materials into use on new projects.

Once you’ve got your opportunity and your idea you then need to execute it well. Prepare items properly and use them smartly and you’ll upcycle your way to a leaner, greener business operation.