Recycling vs Upcycling: A Guide for Common Metal Household Items

By AWD Digital

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Applying any of these principles to your lifestyle will have a positive effect on the planet (and your bank account). However, the benefits that each of the three R’s offer depend on what you’re dealing with, your lifestyle and of course your ability to upcycle. In this article, we’ll weigh up whether it’s better to upcycle or recycle common metal items found around the home.

upcycling vs recycling

What’s the difference between upcycling and recycling?

Upcycling refers to the process of altering or adapting an item for new use without changing it’s form in any significant way. Recycling refers to breaking down an item into raw materials so that they can be used to create something new. For example, upcycling an egg carton might involve using it as a planting tray for seeds or as part of a child’s art project, whilst recycling an egg carton would mean sending it to the pulping plant and breaking down the item so that the plant materials it is made from can be repurposed in manufacturing new paper or cardboard products.

Questions to ask yourself

As we stated in the introduction, whether it is better to upcycle or recycle comes down to the item in question and your needs and capabilities. Here are a few questions to think about when determining which is the better option for your situation.

Do I have an idea?

One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to upcycling vs. recycling is holding on to items they can no longer use for years with the hope that at some point, they will get an idea and it will be useful for something. This is rarely the case and holding onto things often results in clutter. If you have a metal item that you can’t think of a use for, don’t have an upcycling idea for, or don’t have a present need for an upcycled version of, recycle it.

How good are my DIY skills?

Whilst DIY projects are a huge trend at the moment, take a moment to think seriously about what you are capable of and what the project requires. Working with metal often requires machinery and proper safety gear which can be expensive to acquire and difficult to operate if you haven’t used it before. Be realistic about your skills- just because you have a rusted out washing machine, doesn’t mean now is the perfect time to take up a career in metal sculpture.

Does the item in question have any hazards associated with it?

Sharp edges, rust, electrical components and chemical residue are not uncommon when it comes to scrap metal. If you item has any of these issues, you’ll need the skills to deal with them properly and safely before you proceed with your project. When it comes to things like car batteries or metal chemical containers, it is always better to recycle these at the proper place as the chemicals can leech into the surrounding environment over time as the metal corrodes if the item is not properly handled.

How much time do I have?

Time is another important element to consider. Do you have the spare time required to complete the project. If you think it’s going to take you more than 6 months to complete and you’re not undertaking something significant like rebuilding a car, recycle it.

How much is the metal worth?

Different metals have different values which are also affected by the condition that the metal is in. Copper wiring for example, is extremely valuable in even small quantities and is probably worth trading for a profit rather than upcycling. Iron on the other hand, is not particularly valuable and unless you have an enormous amount of it (like a ship’s worth) it’s probably not worth a lot and could be more valuably used in an upcycling project.

Upcycling ideas for common metal items


Tin cans in particular have diverse upcycling potential and can be used in a number of creative ways without the need for cutting or welding. The soft properties of aluminum make the cans easy to cut and use in craft projects but be careful of the sharp edges.

Bed frame

The sturdy nature of wrought iron bed frames make them ideal for repurposing as tables, shelves, pet beds or even seats. However, keep in mind that most of these upcycling projects do require additional tools and demand a higher level of skill as they are used for practical, rather than decorative purposes.


The weathered quality of old tools make them perfect candidates for garden upcycling projects with almost no tools required!


Piping can be upcycled to fantastic effect as industrial looking furniture, shelving, and railing. Once again, if you plan to upcycle for practical rather than decorative purposes, more sophisticated tools will be required.


If you’ve decided to go the metal recycling route, give our Pakenham business a call on 03 5941 6677. Metal Men Recycling offer 24 hour pickup services and a free bin to dispose of your household scrap.

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Find us at: 18 Drovers Place, Pakenham VIC 3810