Everyone has come across the meaning of recycling, but what about upcycling? The words 'recycling' and 'upcycling' are used interchangeably every so often, but both its methods are independent of each other. Hence, not all recycling is viewed to be the same, even if upcycling may be a subset of recycling. But what we can understand, is the amount of waste that ends up in landfills globally is reduced by both recycling and upcycling. They also minimise the need for new products to be made, which suggests that factories can produce less waste and carbon emissions.
But here is where we distinguish between the two.
What is Recycling?
The process of converting waste into a reusable material is recycling or, in other words, downcycling. This includes taking typical household items, such as paper, glass, and plastic, breaking down the components, and using them to make another product that is often of lower value. Each time when something is recycled, the quality of plastic or paper for example slightly diminishes. Moreover, recycling requires more processing energy to produce new material that would still require some mechanical or chemical operation.
What is Upcycling?
Upcycling, on the other hand, is a unique method of reusing or repurposing that transforms waste into products of equal or greater value to produce something new from its present state. It requires less energy to process and aims to concentrate on preserving or adding the value of the waste material. You just need to be innovative with your handcrafted initiatives to find out new ways to repurpose your items, instead of having to give it to a recycling centre to be broken down.
- Upcycling provides a more unconventional approach to being green
Upcycling provides a fun and creative approach to educate children to a greener lifestyle. Separating waste into various recycling bins may not seem pleasant, but the little ones will love using their imaginations and resourcefulness to come up with extraordinary ways to reuse things around the house. If you have kids, it would be better to include them with various green activities once they become involved in upcycling.
Some people, especially on websites like Etsy, have also made a living by upcycling products and selling them for a profit. Additionally, selling upcycling products through such platforms can also help alleviate positive indicators in the global economy, and contribute further toward an eco-friendlier society.
So, what makes the two so different, aside from the obvious fundamental differences between recycling and upcycling, mentioned above?
- Recycling Lessens Value, Upcycling Increases Value
Recycling occurs when your jeans, for example, is tossed into a recycling bin instead of throwing them away for incineration, and then sent to your nearest recycling centre. However, the jeans will still be shredded through a machinery process before reverting into a cotton yarn, where it was originated from. Hence, why it is deemed of lower quality.
Whereas for upcycling, you could use your initiative to create a rag rug that is of higher value and quality. You can do this simply by cutting your jeans into pieces up until the edges or the hem area with simple tools around your house. Then, it is all up to your creative handiwork to craft the best rug you can make it out to be.
- Upcycling Is Highly Sustainable
Resources like water and electricity are consumed considerably to make new products. Fortunately, resources can be conserved, when the need to produce new materials are sustained by prolonging the life of existing materials through upcycling.
- Upcycling Extends Material’s Lifespan
Upcycling is better than recycling in terms of increasing the useful life of items. If you have a textile clothing that has been worn out, and you handcrafted it into an upcycled rug instead of throwing it away. After your rug slightly cheapens in quality over the years, it can still be repurposed into a pillowcase for example. Your pillowcase can then be recycled back into its original textile yarn after it wears out over time. Moreover, this will become a repeated process and saves time, money, and the economy.
- The Looping method
Upcycling and recycling are both critical components of a "closed-loop" development process. To make the next run of items, any material produced is gathered and recycled. Think of a world in which rug businesses owned forever the rugs they initially made. That is where we reimagine the model! A business owns the products it produces indefinitely in a true closed-loop scenario. There would be less waste of rugs lying around in the landfills due to more businesses adopting sustainable practices with the looping method.
Here is an illustration:
Step 1: The business make and sells the rug
Step 2: The rug is then purchased and used by you (the consumer) until it wears out
Step 3: You can then upcycle it to your pillowcase
Step 4: You will then return it to the business after it wears out
Step 5: The company recycles it back into a yarn (its original fabric)
Step 6: It transforms the yarn into a rug again (Back to Step 1)
Upcycling is highly innovative, whereas recycling is practical, and can require a broad range of techniques and materials to produce the finished product. Reuse and upcycling, in short, eliminate the need for recycling and are also great environmental solutions. When a substance can no longer serve any reason, recycling it is more eco-friendly than sending it to the landfill. The need for low-impact goods is being driven by rising environmental, social, and economic pressures. Over the last five years, instances of upcycling have increased, mostly semi-closed than 100% closed-loop companies, and will continue to do so even more. Increasingly, our constructed world would mirror the natural world. Much like nothing in an environment is produced or destroyed, nothing in the process of producing the goods we need will be produced or destroyed.