Easy Upcycling Projects

By Joan Gould

up·cy·cle /verb. To reuse discarded objects or material in such a way as to create product of higher quality or value than the original.

Though it’s certainly not a new concept, the term “upcycling” was first introduced in the 1990s and later gained traction with the introduction of digital idea boards like Pinterest and websites like Etsy that emerged as avenues for selling handmade goods.

There’s an endless variety of upcycled goods today, ranging from Conex boxes (large shipping containers) repurposed as upscale office buildings or retail stores, patio furniture made from wooden shipping pallets, and even antique silverware refashioned into jewelry.

I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite upcycled projects to try, using materials you probably already have at home!


Upcycled Book Home Décor | Heartwarming Hedgehog

How many times have you bought a book, read it once, and added it to your bookshelf, where it sat, never opened again? Dust off those old friends and give them new life by turning them into whimsical home décor accents. If you don’t have extra books at home, secondhand shops are gold mines for once-read books at bargain prices.

Old book, paperbacks work best
Folding bone (optional)
Glue gun (optional)
Felt, buttons, and googly eyes to decorate the finished hedgehog (optional)

Step 1: Fold each page in half toward the spine.
Step 2: Fold the top right corner of the previously folded pages into the spine to create a triangle.
Step 3: Remove the book cover or fold it to match the hedgehog shape.
Step 4: Add the eyes, nose, and other felt accessories like flowers or bows.

Visit Upcycled Book Projects for video instructions to make a heartwarming hedgehog, plus two bonus upcycled book and paper crafts!


Plarn Picnic Mat

Unless you’ve made the switch to reusable shopping bags, you probably have a cabinet overflowing with plastic grocery bags. In most areas, plastic grocery bags are not recyclable, so why not turn them into something useful?

“Plarn” is a yarn-like material made from plastic grocery bags used to create surprisingly comfortable waterproof mats for picnics or the beach. Some crafters also make plarn bedrolls to donate to the homeless.

Volunteers at the Tomball Community Center have been part of the plarn upcycling trend since 2016. After discovering a need for sleeping mats for Houston’s homeless, they began meeting weekly to crochet or weave sleeping mats from grocery bags. The group has made and donated more than 350 mats for area churches, police departments, and the homeless. They recently also started making plarn bags to hold belongings and toiletries.

Grocery bags (a full-size mat uses approximately 900 – 1,000 bags)
10mm or larger crochet hook

Step 1: Cut the handles and bottoms off each grocery bag, then cut each bag into four strips, which will look like loops.
Step 2: Connect the loops making one long string of plarn.
Step 3: Begin crocheting. For a blanket-sized mat, crochet about 48 inches across, and add crocheted rows until the mat reaches the desired length.
Step 4: Tie a knot to finish the mat and hide the knot.

Visit Crochet Plarn Into Mat Blanket for video instructions.

If you don’t already know how to crochet, visit How To Crochet For Absolute Beginners to watch a simple tutorial for beginners.


T-Shirt Dog Toys

Your four-legged friends can benefit from upcycling too. If you have worn out tees taking up space in your closet, don’t spend a fortune buying new dog toys. Instead, upcycle old t-shirts to make durable dog toys for pennies.

Tip: This project also works great with denim!

Two old T-shirts

Step 1: Cut the T-shirts into 1- to 2-inch-wide strips, at least 20 inches long for a total of 12 pieces.
Step 2: Stack the pieces on top of each other, alternating colors, and tie into a knot. Make sure the knot is tight.
Step 3: Divide the pieces into three sections with four strands each and braid until it reaches at least 10 inches long.
Step 4: Tie another secure knot at the end of the braid.
Step 5: Enjoy playtime with your pooch!


To find resources for recycling in your area, or more ways to repurpose everyday household items, visit Harris County Drop-Off Sites.

Check out www.hcp4.net/learning for more upcycled project ideas. Post photos of your completed projects to social media using #P4Upcyle.