Upcycling to save money or save the planet?

Whether you want to save the planet or save money, finding ways to upcycle can lead to great gifts. The definition of “upcycle” according to Merriam Webster is: transitive verb: to recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item : to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value).

According to 5gyers.com: Much of the plastic dropped in recycling bins isn’t even recycled. In 2014, 22% of PET plastic collected for recycling was exported out of the United States. Why? Our facilities can’t keep up: Plastic production surged from 15 million tons in 1964 to 311 tons in 2014—an increase of more than 2,000 percent. Currently, more than 300 million tons of new plastic is produced annually and less than 10% is recycled. 2

Honestly, I fall a bit on both teams. I like when I can reuse something rather than throw it away, and I like it better when I can reuse it in a practical way, not just interesting decor. I also love to craft and make gifts, but my budget is pretty microscopic. So, I try to combine saving money and saving the planet a little bit at a time. Rather than sending our old materials to a landfill (or the ocean), how can we use them?

Some examples of how I have reused items are cutting up old jeans.I can repair the knees and tears along the leg, but when the rip or tear is along the area where the legs join, it is almost a guarantee that they will rip again, or be so bunched up that they are uncomfortable and never worn. Once they blow out there, I turn them into scraps. I cut open the legs along the seams so I have large pieces of fabric. Sometimes they are turned into durable rags, often I can use the large pieces in sewing projects like pouches, bags, hot mitts, etc. The seams themselves I turn into the handles on bags, or wind up and use for trivets and coasters. Very little of the item goes to waste, if I can help it.

So cloth I can use in a variety of ways. Paper and cardboard we use until it starts to be so worn it’s unusable and then we use it to start the woodstove or bonfires. Whenever possible we use washable containers for our packed lunches or for leftovers. But then I ran into the feed bags we have for the animals. There is only so many times things that need to be bagged up like kindling or random containers. Then what? So I turned to Pinterest and searched uses and quickly remembered that these feedbags can be upcycled into market bags. TaDa! My new project. Some feed bags are quite boring, but often the companies design the bags to be eye catching and so they have cool pictures. I started with our chicken feed bags, and then tried some dog food bags, all of which were easy to find. Then my daughter and I were able to find some more designs as people learned what we were doing and we moved onto cow feed and birdseed, with a random pig one as well. Some birdseed bags are gorgeous!

As I find these projects to make, we use them. As I then tweak them, I sell them, barter them, and give them as gifts. It seems like a win for everyone. 

Here are the directions for upcycling the feed bags into market bags yourself. Or I would be happy if you purchased some from our Etsy shop. If there is a particular design or quantity that you want, please reach out to me either on the shop or here.  

I’m always looking for ideas: What is your favorite way to upcycle? What are your favorite gifts to give?


  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/upcycle?utm_campaign=sd&utm_medium=serp&utm_source=jsonld
  2. https://www.5gyres.org/truth-about-recycling/

Leave a Reply