Reinventing the Ordinary: An Upcycling Challenge

By Glowforge

Challenge: Reduce waste by upcycling an everyday item into something new, functional, and innovative.

Did you know the average person in the United States produces about 4.5 pounds of trash daily? Use your creativity and problem-solving skills to reimagine materials or items that would otherwise be thrown out into new, functional, and innovative upcycled products.

Facilitation Guide


Upcycling helps the environment by taking stuff you would normally throw away and turning it into something better and more useful. By doing this, we can use fewer new materials to create products, saving energy, reducing pollution, and decreasing emissions. Upcycling positively impacts our planet, and it's a fun way to be creative while also helping out.

Glowforge is an excellent tool for an upcycling challenge because it can cut, engrave, and score a wide range of materials, including wood, acrylic, leather, paper, and more — even cardboard you might normally throw out! You can use Glowforge to create customizations for an upcycled product to enhance its appeal. From decorations and embellishments to customized components and modifications of custom parts, Glowforge makes upcycling even more innovative, and fun!


Research and explore how upcycling works to reduce waste. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Learn more about the principles of sustainable design and how they can be applied to upcycling projects so your new design is environmentally responsible.
  • Explore examples of successful upcycling projects. What can we learn from them? Collections on Pinterest boards or crafting sites might be helpful during your research.
  • What common items or materials end up in landfills and contribute to waste? What are the strengths and limitations concerning their reuse?

Explore Tip

If you get stuck, consider searching for ideas from businesses that create upcycled products, like Upcycle That or Upcycled.

Reflect and Review

Take a moment to reflect on the research you did on upcycling.

  • What are some of the environmental and social benefits of upcycling?
  • What common materials can you use with Glowforge that might be both visually interesting and sturdy for reuse in an upcycled product?

Consider if there are any other resources or techniques that would be helpful to explore before moving on to the Ideate stage, where you will brainstorm product designs.


Brainstorm and experiment with different techniques and design ideas for your upcycled product. Think of as many techniques or ideas as you can! You don’t need to worry about whether they’re good or bad ideas — just get creative. Think about:

  • Is your upcycled product’s purpose decorative or functional?
  • What are some possible materials or items you can incorporate into your upcycled product?
  • Who are the potential users of our upcycled product and what are their needs and preferences?
  • Small details can make a big difference in the overall appearance of your upcycled product. What parts, embellishments, or modifications can you make using Glowforge to create your new product?

Ideate Tip

Don't be afraid to experiment and think outside the box. Sometimes the most innovative designs come from combining seemingly unrelated materials or ideas. Let your imagination run wild and have fun with the creative process! Check out these bags made from different materials like recycled truck tarps, boat sails, and feed bags! Search the Glowforge Community to explore what other users have created using Glowforge.

Reflect and Review

Take a moment to reflect on the ideas you brainstormed.

  • Are any ideas similar enough to be grouped together?
  • Do any ideas stand out as your favorites? Which ones might you disregard?
  • Perhaps a peer has an idea that works well with yours — collaborate together to make both of your ideas even better.

Consider if there are any gaps in your brainstorming ideas that you want to consider before moving on to the Design stage, where you will narrow your ideas to one or two upcycled products to fully design.


Review the ideas you brainstormed and select one or two that you would like to develop further. Consider the following:

  • Which materials and techniques could be used to make the upcycled product durable and long-lasting?
  • How could you combine different materials and items to create something unique and innovative?
  • What design techniques can you use to make your upcycled product aesthetically pleasing and visually interesting?
  • What types of materials can be used in the upcycling process that will work well with Glowforge?

Design Tip

Create a cohesive look by choosing colors and textures that complement each other and the item you are upcycling. You can achieve this by using a variety of materials, such as paint, fabric, or other crafting supplies, to create a unique appearance. Check out Glowforge Proofgrade® materials, as they come in a wide variety of colors and textures, and some can be painted or stained to complement your design.

Reflect and Review

Take a moment to reflect on the progress of your design.

  • What materials and tools do you need to create your upcycled product?
  • What parts of your design will be printed on your Glowforge? Can the designs be arranged to save materials?

Consider if you would like to revisit your design further to change anything before moving onto the Prototype stage, where you will create and test a finalized idea.


Select one fully developed design. Assemble your materials and create a prototype of your upcycled product. Using Glowforge, print your design using appropriate materials. Consider the following:

  • How long will it take to create your design?
  • What material(s) or tools will you need to assemble your design?

Prototype Tip

When printing prototype parts on Glowforge, arrange them in a way that will reduce waste and allow you to use the scraps for future prototypes. Learn more about placing designs precisely on your materials.

Reflect and Review

Take a moment to reflect on the prototypes you created and tested during this stage.

  • Are there any technical or practical challenges that you need to overcome during the prototyping stage?
  • Is the prototype functional, durable, and usable? Are there any changes or adjustments you need to make to your design based on your prototype testing?

Consider if there are any previous stages you might want to revisit, or if you want to rethink any part of your design before moving on to the Evaluation stage.


After creating and testing your prototype it’s time for feedback. Here are some sample questions to ask your peers in order to get useful and actionable feedback so you can make the needed adjustments to your design:

  • How does the upcycled product compare to other similar items in terms of functionality, sustainability, and aesthetics?
  • How did your use of digital tools and the Glowforge enhance your final product?
  • How can you further improve and refine your design?

Evaluate Tip

Showcase your innovation and creativity in a pitch to your evaluators! To impress them, provide a short, clear, and concise explanation about your upcycled product, including its purpose, materials used, and any unique features or design elements. This is your chance to shine and impress your audience with your innovative and eco-friendly solution to reducing waste. You have the freedom to choose the best format to present your work. You could create a short write-up, a poster, or even a video to showcase your upcycled product. Get creative and have fun with it!

Reflect and Review

Take a moment to reflect on the feedback you received from others.

  • How well does your upcycled product meet the needs and preferences of your target audience?
  • Are there stages in the design process that you would like to return to in order to make these adjustments?

Once you have completed and finalized your design, share it with a larger audience!

Share your students' creations on social media! Post your photos and use the hashtag #GlowforgeEDU and tag us @glowforge for the chance to be featured.