Upcycling is a material, cultural and business practice that transforms used or waste products, components and materials into a new product or material of higher quality and/or value than the constituent elements. Upcycling includes innovative forms of repair, reuse, refurbishment, remake, remanufacture, recycling and more. It is an important subset of the emerging circular economy and offers a sustainable alternative to the traditional linear economy of take, make, use and dispose. Upcycling reduces solid waste, improves resource efficiency, and reduces industrial energy consumption and associated carbon emissions. It creates new job opportunities, saves money for individuals and businesses, and contributes to people’s psychological wellbeing. Despite the benefits, upcycling largely remains a niche practice and needs to be scaled up to have a greater positive impact on the environment and society.

At the household level, the known determinants of individuals’ engagement in upcycling in the UK are positive attitude towards upcycling (personal belief) and one’s social circle’s positive collective beliefs about upcycling (social influence). In other words, the engagement depends on personal beliefs and social influence. Therefore, creating positive personal and collective beliefs is paramount to behaviour change when it comes to upcycling at home. Community events are known to be an effective intervention for raising awareness and changing beliefs and practices. The UK consumer study found that women aged 30 and over are more likely to upcycle frequently than others, making this demographic as a promising target group for interventions and as key catalysers for change.

Project aims and objectives

The project aims to further our knowledge of how to get everyone involved in upcycling at household level in the UK, and to test art and design-based interventions (i.e., community events) to promote upcycling behaviour. With these aims, there are four objectives:

  • Objective 1: to understand opportunities and barriers to upcycling at home
  • Objective 2: to identify and co-create appropriate and effective art and design-based interventions (i.e., community events)
  • Objective 3: to deliver the interventions and measure the impact
  • Objective 4: to disseminate the exemplary participatory research project widely
Approach to the project

To achieve Objective 1 and 2, we will organise participatory, listening and co-creation workshops. We will first ask the participants about their current upcycling activities and opinions on upcycling, such as what kinds of upcycling they might like to do, what they do not want to do, what is impossible, what stops them from upcycling, what could help them to upcycle more in the future. We will then ask the participants to co-create the community events they would like to attend (those that will inspire and inform them, develop their skills, and increase their confidence in upcycling).

To achieve Objective 3, we will further develop the co-created community event ideas, and hire suitable, local, sustainable artists, designers or makers for a series of intervention events. We will devise mechanisms and approaches to measure the impact of the interventions, and collect data during and after the events.

To achieve Objective 4, we will document both listening and co-creation workshops and intervention events (e.g., video records and photographs). We will hired a professional video editor to create a short documentary video. The documentary video and selected photographs will be exhibited at the end of the project.

Study participants

For the listening and co-creation workshops, our target study participants are women aged 30 and over (and their partners, family members, and friends). Our geographical focus will be four cities in the Midlands – Birmingham, Derby, Leicester and Nottingham. The intervention events are open for everyone in Leicester and other neighbouring areas.

Project partners

We have our agreed partnerships with Leicester Museum & Art Gallery, LCB (Leicester Creative Business) Depot, Eva Organization for Women (EOW), and Green Meadows: Leicester Museum & Art Gallery for the intervention events between April and June 2024, LCB Depot for the project exhibition in July 2024, and EOW and Green Meadows to promote and organise the listening and co-creation workshops in Leicester and Nottingham in January 2024.