How to guide

Early Childhood

> Upcycle
Turn waste into art by re-using and upcycling


Here’s our new mantra: It’s not rubbish ’til you put it in the bin!

“Err, pardon?” we hear you say.

What we’re saying is that instead of binning that thing you’ve got in your hand, think about how you could re-use or upcycle it.

Re-using or upcycling stops things from going to landfill where they can pollute our environment and create greenhouse gases. Re-using or upcycling also means you’ll be saving the energy and resources that would be used to dispose of that item.

And finally, making something useful out of old items saves you buying something new, and that’s fantastic because it means you’ll have more money for the more expensive olives or that bigger box of chockies. So next time you stroll towards the bin, think about whether that thing in your hand could be used for something new and you’ll not only help our environment, but could save yourself some money too!

How To Do It

Re-use art

We’re pretty sure that most early learning educators could teach us a few things about turning waste into art: you are the experts at upcycling inventiveness!

But for those of you who need a bit of guidance with upcycling art, we’ll do our best to help.

Ask parents to collect and bring along clean waste items from home and ask other staff to save the following items from your centre bins. For example:

  • Milk and juice cartons
  • Plastic bottles and containers
  • Jars and lids
  • Cereal boxes
  • Steel food tins
  • Old coat hangers, sheets or pillow cases

And include other waste items to decorate the artwork. For example:

  • Lolly wrappers
  • Colourful pieces of plastic, foil and packaging
  • Scraps of paper, cardboard and fabric
  • Old buttons
  • Old magazines and catalogues

You can sit back and let children create what they want or provide a few ideas, such as musical instruments, pencil holders, jewellery, monsters, animals, cars or montages! Children could work together or individually.

Quick Tip: Having a theme can sometimes help children decide what to make.


Upcycling is taking an old item and giving it a new purpose; finding an item no longer in use that will likely be thrown away and giving it a new life. For example:

  • Turn an old bookshelf into a garden bed
  • Join a row of old chairs to make a bench seat
  • Weave old plastic bags into a new bag
  • Use a milk carton to make a flower pot
  • Create a floor or door mat from fabric scraps
  • Make a vertical garden from old plastic bottles

Remember, you are only limited by your imagination!

Whole centre tip

Invite all classes to create a recycled art sculpture or mural. Display the finished artwork somewhere central for all visitors to the centre to see.

What’s Our Impact?

Calculate the amount of waste saved from going to landfill by up-cycling and reusing. For example:

Three pieces of waste a day is equal to 30kg of waste per year. Approximately 1kg of plastic has a 6kg CO2e carbon footprint. What does that mean?

  • 30kg fills a 240L wheelie bin or equals 180 CO2e (CO2 equivalent) kg a year
  • 22kg fills a shopping trolley (175L) or 132 CO2e kg a year
  • 75kg fills a shopping basket (30L) or 22.5 CO2e kg per year

How much packing waste did your group/the centre save from going to landfill ‒ a wheelie bin full? What is the positive impact?


Fast Facts

Upcycling is not a new concept. Some of the best examples of modern day upcycling come from the 1930’s-40’s.

Clothing and household textiles make up almost 5% of all garbage in landfills.

The EPA estimates that 75% of solid waste is recyclable, yet only 30% is actually recycled.