Upcycled Art – Creativity Meets Sustainability


MARCH, 2023

By Reece Leverzencie

Have you ever thought of how you can be more creative with your sustainable practices? Well, upcycled art is definitely something you should include in your quest for living more sustainably. From reusing paper for the creation of collage art to reusing scrap metal to design sculptures, upcycling art is a truly exciting practice that anyone can get involved in!

What is Upcycled Art? 

Upcycled art is essentially the practice of repurposing recyclable waste in order to turn it from something that is unwanted to a creative piece of genius. This may involve, for example, cleaning out empty bottles and bottle caps to create a sculpture or item of some kind. Or it may involve reusing newspaper for collage art, or crafting a bouquet of flowers from paper scraps. Your only limit is your imagination!

Upcycled Art

Why Upcycling Is Important:

Aside from the fact that upcycled art is a form of recycling that reduces the amount of waste that ends up as pollution in our world’s oceans and green spaces, it also majorly reduces landfill waste which has many adverse effects on our health and the environment. “Landfills are the endpoint for municipal solid waste that is not recycled or burned” and most of our waste ends up in landfills. The sad reality is that these mega-sized dump sites hold so many materials that could have been reused or recycled in some way. 

One of the major positive side effects of upcycling recyclable materials, and consequent reduction in landfill waste, is a major decrease in the amount of anthropogentic greenhouse gas (GHG) emmissions produced from landfill sites. These emissions are extremely harmful as they destroy our atmosphere. Landfills also tend to have an adverse effect on surrounding environments and ecosystems, thus decreased emissions mean a healthier environment. 

Moreover, reduced waste accumulation in landfills also reduces health and environmental risks among communities surrounding landfill sites. For example, landfills carry a lot of waste that produces toxic chemicals, which may then leak into water supplies. “ Many communities surrounding landfills have had their drinking water contaminated by leaking landfills.” This contaminated water may threaten the surrounding biodiversity and various ecosystems within the area. Thus, upcycled art contributes to preventing these risks from occurring, as any contribution both big and small compounds into greater, sustainable results over time.  

The constant reusing and upcycling of recyclable materials into art will also lead to a reduction in energy used in the production of goods and products. This will also then lead to a decrease in the use of new raw materials in the production process. In essence, upcycled art and the reusing of materials lead to a more sustainable way of living. 

Upcycled Scrap Metal Art

5 Fun and Creative Forms of Upcycled Art!

1. Upcycled Bottle Art:

For those who collect and recycle plastic, upcycling bottles and bottle caps are definitely something you should try out! This type of upcycled art involves the process of drawing or planning out an image and then gluing down bottle caps of various colours to create the image. Upcycled bottle cap art could also involve creating items such as keychains, fridge magnets, necklaces, bracelets, and even earrings. So the next time you think about throwing away a bottle, think about all the ways you can utilize it creatively, to be more sustainable. 

Don’t know what to do with your leftover bottles with no caps? Why not upcycle them into artsy-looking pot plant holders! First, you would need to“[…] cut the bottoms off small plastic water bottles, paint them, fill them with dirt and seeds, then turn the bottoms into little planter pots that you can place on a table or hang in your garden.” This is a fun and innovative way to reuse any plastic bottle you are planning to throw away and turn it into upcycled art. 

Bird feeders are also another really innovative way to reuse plastic bottles. Learning how to make a bird feeder out of a plastic bottle is fairly simple and it’s a really great way to attract various bird species into your outdoor garden spaces. 

2. Upcycled Cardboard Art:

Cardboard art is most likely one of the most fun forms of upcycled art to get involved in if you are someone who enjoys building things. From creating detailed 3D sculptures by molding cardboard into shapes and or using a layering technique to creating 2D artwork which involves other mediums, you will never run out of creative ideas. Due to cardboard being relatively cheap and easily accessible, you can be sure that you will hardly ever run out of cardboard materials to use for your sustainable DIY projects. A few cardboard items to keep for your use, include cereal boxes, shoe boxes, toilet rolls, wrapping paper rolls, egg cartons, and milk cartons. 

3. Upcycled Flip-Flop Art:

In Kenya, flip-flop pollution seems to be a major issue affecting waterways and beaches. However, one company, in particular, has implemented creative ways to reduce flip-flop waste by turning them into upcycled art. Ocean Sole collects washed-up flip-flop waste, washes and cleans them, and then leaves them to dry out. “Artisans then come by to pick them up, where they are sculpted, glued, carved, and sanded into collectible artworks.” All of their upcycled art is hand-crafted by 90 employees, and some of their artwork may take 3 months to complete. The unused flip-flop cut-offs are also reused to create upcycled mattresses. 

4. Upcycled Mosaic Art

Have you recently broken your favourite mug, plate, or vase? Why not use the shattered pieces to create beautiful mosaic art to decorate and colour up your indoor or outdoor living spaces!  Mosaic art is essentially the use of reusable materials “[…] such as broken ceramic tiles, stained glass, mirrors, beach glass, china, and pottery” to create an artwork. Upcycled mosaic art is truly an upcycled art form that is eco-friendly due to its long-lasting durability. You don’t need to preserve this artwork using  “[…] any  type of chemicals to clean your mosaic artworks and you won’t have to worry about it deteriorating or damaging, because there is no art as sturdy and as durable as mosaic art.”

5. Upcycled Collage Art

Perhaps one of the most well-known and simplest forms of upcycled art that you may have forgotten about, is collage art. As you may know, collage art involves gluing cut-out bits of old newspapers, magazines, cardboard, and other paper materials to a canvas, to create layered images. This is a relaxing, fun-filled, and creative way to spend your time and it also ensures a reduction in the amount of paper, cardboard, magazines, and newspapers that end up in your trash. 

If you feel like getting more creative with upcycled collage art, you can even implement the use of unwanted clothing materials, broken glass, plastic, and any kind of reusable materials other than paper materials. Using these materials will essentially give your upcycled collage artwork more of a textured look and you can play around with the depth of your artwork through its composition. 

These 5 upcycled art ideas are just a few examples of innovative ways in which recyclable materials can be creatively repurposed. Some people even use wood cut-offs and metal craps as a means to create upcycled art. Thus, the whole point of this practice is to creatively use what you can, to save in any way possible. Your sustainable practices matter, so why not do something creative while you’re at it.

A simple hobby such as upcycling art will help get you a step closer to a more eco-friendly household and essentially a healthier future and environment for all. Practicing upcycled art is not only a sustainable practice but is also truly effective in creating awareness about pollution on our planet. It offers you various ways to get creative while saving the planet. So why not get started today!

Greenpop Foundation NPC is a registered non-profit organisation. Registration Number (NPO): 151-411 NPO.