Hi! My name is Sara. I’m a native Detroiter who cares about the environment and wants to make a difference. So, I blog about upcycling. My journey into upcycling started with a simple mason jar, which I turned into a handy pump-top soap bottle. The transformation captivated me, drawing me to the idea that something so banal and ubiquitous as a jar could be converted into a useful, good-looking household item. But when I learned that reusing one glass jar saves enough energy to watch TV for three hours, I was hooked. From there I was transforming jars into household gadgets ranging from light fixtures and pin cushions to cocktail shakers and piggy banks. Today I am an upcycling champion and can take just about anything headed for the trash, revive it, and redefine its use. 

My company Farnsworth Upcycle along with my blog Don’t Throw That Out is a warehouse for upcycling ideas. If reusing one jar saves enough energy for three hours of television, think how much energy could be saved if we all reused our jars—even if only as drinking glasses! Throughout my website and blog, I hope to motivate you to think twice before tossing anything out. Check out the upcycled transformations on my Gallery page, and then get busy! Thank you for visiting.

What is Upcycling?

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, upcycling uses unwanted items to create products of higher value. Think trash to treasure. The essence of upcycling is its positive impact on the environment, diverting materials headed for the landfill and upending the waste stream. While recycling also uses unwanted material such as plastic and glass, upcycling is energy efficient. Recycling breaks down waste product. Upcycling reuses the waste without destroying it to form something new. Think of the environmental impact if we saved and revamped furniture rather than tossing it to the curb. According to the National Geographic, Americans discard more than 250 million tons of trash each year. While 33% of the trash is recycled and another 12% burned in incinerators, a whopping 55% ends up in the landfill.

Waste is a terrible thing to mind. Upcycle.

Although the upcycling term is contemporary, the practice is not. Upcycling can be traced back to a 16th century English proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Originally penned in Latin as folk wisdom (the precursor to “where there’s a will, there’s a way”), it basically means that when you really need to do something, you’ll find a way to do it. And because proverbs allow you to interpret your own meaning as well as the advice, this particular turn of words has been translated into multiple languages with just as many cultural interpretations. The Russian translation, for example, literally means “poor people are crafty.” Adaptations aside, upcycling is 21st-century thrifting using resources you have or have found.

I see a parallel with upcycling and the current transformation in my city. Following the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy, Detroit is experiencing a metamorphosis. The investor-led transformation, however, focuses on the downtown area, while Detroit residents use age-old upcycling techniques in their small pocket neighborhoods to renovate and restore their homesteads which extend to vacant and overgrown lots – reinventing these into community green space, vegetable gardens, work space and art studios. The Farnsworth Upcycle neighborhood is the epitome of steadfast resolve to do-it-yourself and, to turn a phrase, work with what you have.