How to upcycle

Updated: May 1, 2019

BoxedIn Theatre

This year, BoxedIn Theatre – one of our network members – is taking to the Edinburgh Fringe to create the first ever zero-waste performance venue. That means everything from constructing the venue to the marketing process for each of the eight shows that make up the programme will rely solely on found and recycled materials – generating no new waste. That’s a pretty ambitious idea (although making those kinds of deep and far-reaching changes is certainly important for a greener future!).

It also means they’re having to get pretty creative with the materials they find, which places upcycling – turning worn-out materials in to something shiny and new – right at the centre of the project. Here are their top tips for upcycling, both in work and in everyday life.

1. Anything can be upcycled

The first thing to remember is that you can make pretty much anything by upcycling – and with pretty much any materials. When we started researching how we could go about constructing The Greenhouse, we came across this 'Instructable' that shows how you can use old water bottles to build a house!

2. Start with that you want – and be precise.

A great place to start is by thinking about what you want to make. For us, this didn't just mean saying, ‘we want to build a theatre’. It might be helpful to sit down and make a list of all of the qualities you want your upcycled item to have – for The Greenhouse, we wanted the space to be ‘intimate’, ‘naturally lit’, and ‘weather-proof’. For an upcycled sofa, it might mean ‘comfortable’, ‘colourful’, and ‘long enough to sleep on’. We actually found this quite freeing, as it meant we were focussing on what we were trying to make without necessarily being hemmed in by conventions of what that thing should look like.

3. Start designing

Now that you have an idea of what you want your upcycled item to do, it’s time to start thinking about what it’s going to look like. We spent a number of weeks sketching and coming up with different ideas for what we wanted the structure to look like, and how this would fit with what we needed it to do. Once we settled on a structure that we liked the look of, we had a great starting point for planning. BUT don’t finalise the design yet…

4. Flexibility is key

Be prepared to throw all of that designing out the window. The question of materials and design in upcycling is like that age-old question that songwriters get asked: “what comes first, the music or the lyrics?” Well, in the case of upcycling, it’s often a little bit of one, followed by a little bit of the other, and so on. Once we had our designs, we had to go away and think “okay, what are the materials that we will need to make this happen” and we soon found that some aspects of our design were just impossible. So we tweaked the design, and we tweaked our list of materials, until we found something that we could practically achieve.

5. Gather your materials

Now it’s time to draw up detailed plans and start getting together your final list of materials. The plans can be as precise or as imprecise as you want, just so long as you know exactly what you’ll be doing and how you’ll be doing it. Then, start collecting, and start making! We found gumtree to be an absolutely invaluable resource for finding old and unwanted pieces of… well, absolutely anything to be honest!

Well, there you have it! Some top tips for upcycling from BoxedIn Theatre, the company responsible for The Greenhouse at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. If you found this interesting, pop along to their workshops which will be happening every other day during the Fringe. As well as that, why not drop them an email at to learn about how to get involved with their sustainability initiative – creating a community of sustainability-minded artists at The Fringe and beyond!

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