Three easy upcycling ideas everyone can do at home

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The upcycling message is practical, powerful and pretty clever.

“I really believe that waste can be beautifully upcycled,” says Max McMurdo, eco-designer and TV presenter. “Just because an item can no longer fulfil its original purpose, doesn’t mean it can’t work really well as something else.

“I started upcycling 18 years ago and people didn’t understand what I was doing, they thought I was a mad hippy!” Chatty and fun, McMurdo lives in a 40-foot upcycled shipping container, which he converted into a floating home – and admits it’s the most ambitious thing he’s ever upcycled.

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“It’s fantastic and I love it. I had the bright idea that if I’m telling people what to do, I must do it on the biggest scale of all and upcycle a home. My lampshades are old jelly moulds and my table’s a washing machine drum.”

If you take a look on Pinterest, it seems a lot of people stick to one material (which they’re comfortable with) when upcycling. But for McMurdo, successful product design and upcycling is all about mixing materials, like wood and glass or metal and leather. “So with something like a wash drum table, I put a light bulb inside that streams out of the holes, with a piece of glass on top.”

Working with reclaimed materials takes creativity and a little bit of effort. But as McMurdo points out, just because you’re upcyling, doesn’t mean it should be any less beautiful in terms of design and aesthetic. “You’ll be amazed how many things you can reuse in a really cool way!”

Hold it there…. think before you bin that can of tasty baked beans (Max McMurdo/PA)
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McMurdo has partnered with Heinz for their ‘Handmade with Heinz’ campaign, which aims to inspire people to upcycle household items and waste – like used tins, for example.

Wondering where to start? Here’s how to get a foot on the crafting ladder…

1. Upcycle old pallets into cool garden furniture

As well as upcycling wooden pallets, think about making cushion covers out of vintage fabric or an old dress even (PX Fuel/PA)

You’ll need: Some used wood pallets, castor wheels (available in sets of four), selection of ready-made cushions.

Steps: Pick up some free wood pallets from a local shop, farm or industrial estate – don’t be afraid to ask! Screw castor wheels to each corner of the bottoms of the pallets to make them manoeuvrable (they come with holes and are easy to affix). Double stack the pallets for the right height. Sand the pallets down lightly to avoid splinters, then wax to seal and make them weather resistant. Add some cushions.

Top Tip: Amazon sells Cuprnol Garden Furniture Stain Exterior Wood Care, priced £15, to seal your pallets from bad weather and keep them looking nicer for longer.

2. Upcycle a wooden ladder into a cool shelf

Who would have thought a salvaged ladder makes a great prop for your favourite decorative pieces? (Max McMurdo/PA)

You’ll need: An old wooden ladder, some knick-knacks and anything you want to hang on it.

Steps: Find an old wood ladder – the more paint spattered the better. If you don’t have one, ask neighbours and friends. Prop it securely against a wall and use as a quirky shelf. You can hang it with anything you like, including clip-on lights or fairy lights. This also works as a towel rack in bathrooms.

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Top tip: This one works especially well for rental properties, as you don’t need to attach anything to walls.

3. Upcycle some old books into a knife block

You don’t need to be a book worm to make this funky knife block (Max McMurdo/PA)

You’ll need: 4-5 old books (buy these from a charity shop if you don’t have any at home), strong string.

Steps: Prop your old books upright, next to each other. Wind an old piece of strong string around the books a couple of times and tie it tightly. Pop your knives in it and place on your kitchen top.

Top tip: You can also create some great artwork with old books, by folding the pages into a certain pattern, or into words like ‘love’ and ‘home’.

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