If you are interested in starting an upcycling business, learn the difference between recycling and upcycling. The difference between recycling and upcycling is that when you recycle, you convert the used material into raw material. Subsequently, you make a new item. Upcycling reuses discarded items and converts them into other items with similar or different use as the original product. This is done without first converting them into raw materials.
There are many options as to what materials to upcycle and what items to make. This will depend a lot on your imagination, skills and what materials are you able to collect. I will give you seven ideas for your inspiration. Upcycling businesses are usually smaller operations rather than big businesses, that create unique products. However, there are exceptions to this and some upcycling businesses operate as manufacture creating lines of products.
More eco-friendly business ideas
If you want to read about starting a recycling business: specific ideas, processes and details on how to do it, read this article, for 10 more ideas on other eco-friendly business ideas, read this one!
- Furniture repair and upcycling
- Wood upcycling: Reclaimed wood
- Glass upcycling
- Textile Upcycling
- Tire Upcycling
- Garbage turning into objects
- Second-hand and upcycling store
1. Furniture repair and upcycling
If you are skilled, furniture upcycling can become a profitable upcycling business. People are willing to pay for unique pieces of furniture. You need to source old, or even broken furniture and turn it into pieces that can sell with a profit.
Find great pieces that people sell online when they are renewing their homes. Go treasure hunting in second-hand stores or antique stores. Sometimes you will be able to find good pieces that people throw out even on the street. You can offer free pickup online, therefore people will contact you to come and take their old stuff. You would be surprised how many people will donate the furniture because they do not want to deal with it.
What to do
Repair furniture by fixing any broken parts, adding missing pieces, sanding, and repainting the furniture in unique ways. Get creative and upcycle the pieces into new items, possibly with very different use than they had before.
Just imagine an old radio (and I mean really old, from back when the radio was as big as a cabinet) made into a dresser, bookshelves or even an aquarium. Old barrels can turn into a bar, chairs, or a coffee table. Old ladder can be made into bookshelves, shelves for house plants, or other items.
2. Wood upcycling business: Reclaimed wood
What is it
Reclaimed wood is in increased demand for many construction projects and for furniture making. It is any wood that has already been used before for any purpose. In other words, it is recovered, treated, and used again for a new purpose. Using it you decrease the need and demand for new wood that contributes to deforestation and degradation of soil. It will usually be harder than new wood. As it is already aged and weathered it has a very unique look.
What to do
To be able to sell reclaimed wood, you need to source it. There are many places where this can be done. You can cooperate with demolition companies. Before they demolish the site, you will go there and recover all the wood. Other great places are remodeling projects of old barns, old commercial or municipal structures, old factory building, etc.
Some reclaimed wood does not come from buildings but comes from old railroad ties, old fences, etc. It can come from trees that died naturally and fell or were damaged by fire or other causes.
After sourcing the materials, you will need to clean the wood and prepare it for the treatment. You need to clean all the impurities, but also check for old nails or objects that could hurt someone in the future.
After the cleanup, you might need to sand it down to remove the uneven outer part. Finally, sometimes the wood will be treated according to its future use.
Who to sell
You can sell reclaimed wood to construction companies, designers, and other companies or individuals who are dedicated to making exclusive projects. You can also sell to furniture makers that specialize in unique projects. Some individuals making their own home construction or repair will be interested as well.
3. Glass upcycling business
Glass is one of the materials that are easily recyclable, but it can also be upcycled to make new products. It is very easy to convert bottles into cups, glasses, and other items.
What to do
You need to cut the bottles in different shapes and you can print the desired design on them. It is easy to put manufacturing processes in place and create the same products over and over again.
There is a great company in Chile, called GreenGlass that does this. They collect glass bottles from restaurants and other places. Moreover, they receive them from people who collect them from the streets, and it is their only means to survive. They have a big factory where they employ many people. They support different environmental and social causes. There is even a documentary in English about them, watch it here if you are interested:
They have different sets of glasses with different designs to commemorate Chilean artists, Chilean native flora and fauna, commonly used slang phrases, etc.
What other items to make
Other products that you could make are lamps and chandeliers, planters and vases, chimes, containers for candles, soap dispensers, and many different kinds of decorations.
Where to sell
These will usually be consumer products, you can start selling on diverse local fairs or in online stores like Etsy. You can sell on a consignment basis to local stores or open your own store. Additionally, start your own e-commerce website to boost online sales.
4. Textile upcycling
Depending on how you will source the material and set up the business, you can either have a manufacture making one or more lines or products, or you can be producing unique items.
Textile upcycling entails collecting old or unused textiles like clothes or other products and converting the usable fabric into new products. You can set up your own collection site after an agreement with your local administration or government. You can also use online channels like social media to set up a collection schedule in your neighborhood.
Sourcing can include collecting scrap textiles from clothing factories that would have been thrown away. These textiles are brand new, but would not have been used otherwise.
What to make
The products you can make are endless: home decor like table cloths, napkins, pillowcases, rugs; toys; clothing; accessories like bags, headbands, hair ties; pet accessories like leashes, pet clothes, etc. The options are endless.
As I write about in my article on eco-friendly yarns, unused T-shirt fabric can be made into T-shirt yarn. T-yarn is frequently used in crocheting and knitting.
5. Tire upcycling
Old tires are very easy to get by. You can form a collaboration with several car repair shops. They will usually be very happy that you will handle the old tires for them. They will give them to you for free.
What to make
Old tires can be made into various products. It is easier to create manufacture and create the same products over and over again, as you are able to collect the same size tires easily.
I have seen small upcycling businesses making many products made of tires. To mention just a few I saw businesses making different kinds of chairs and seats, coffee tables, dog beds, planters, lamps, swings, sandboxes, and many other products.
6. Garbage turned into objects
Many objects that people deem useless and broken can be turned into new and useful items. There are small companies dedicated to turning trash into useful items like lamps, clocks, planters, belts, and many many others.
Source the materials by collecting anything that people are willing to donate. Set up a collection schedule by location, collect from as many places as possible at one time. This is a win-win situation. The person donating the objects is spared of discarded items. You are receiving their materials just for the cost of transportation. Use social media to let people know you offer free collection of their unused items.
You can also set up your own collection site after an agreement with your local administration or government.
What to do
After the collection, sort the materials received. Pick the items and materials you want to upcycle. Dismantle, sort, and recycle the items that you won’t use. Sell the raw materials to the recyclers and make extra money on discarded materials you are not going to use.
After that just use your imagination and skills and turn the old items into new objects. There is a lot of inspiration on the internet that can help you get started. With time, you will start to see new items everywhere.
Many individual artists will do this on a smaller scale and make art, jewelry, and decorations. I have seen beautiful jewelry made of old cutlery, old coins, discarded electronics, small machine parts, molten plastic, and even paper.
7. Second-hand and upcycling store
Maybe you love all the upcycling ideas I gave you here, but you are not that creative or skilled. Alternatively, contact all the small businesses and individuals that do this in your area, and offer them a sales venue.
You can buy and resell the products. You can rent a space in your store, or work on a consignment sale basis. Consignment sale means you accept their products and you pay them once the products are sold. You add a percentage to the asking price and you keep that percentage as a profit.
Combine the classic second-hand store, where you sell second-hand clothes and items with upcycled items that might spice up the looks of your store. Combine a brick-and-mortar store with an e-shop to maximize your sales.
If you want to start an upcycling business, there are many options to choose from. Upcycling can be a one-person operation, or it can turn into a manufacturing factory. It will all depend on how you set up the collection of the material, the production line and how will you sell. I hope you could get inspired to start a business, or at least to try and upcycle some of your own items.
To get more ideas on eco-friendly business ideas, refer to these articles:
- What upcycling business can I start?
- 10 ideas for an eco-friendly business: Food, cleaning, and transportation.
If you want to learn in-depth about what to do to become more eco-friendly, I have a series of articles on how to make your house more eco-friendly.
Start with making your kitchen eco-friendly here!
Continue with your bathroom here.
Learn how to green your bedroom and home office here.
Lastly, save energy and the planet!