Recycling vs Upcycling: Which is Better?

    Recycling vs Upcycling: Which is Better?

    Recycling vs Upcycling: Which is Better?

    TGC-LTGW Eco-Friendly, Going Green, Green Living, Home & Business

    We have come to know of recycling through the years as a means to reuse products that we do not have the need for anyway. Upcycling, however, is a newer term that most people might be unfamiliar with. But to clear the air of any uncertainty let us first thoroughly define recycling and upcycling.


    Conventionally recycling is referred to the process of using waste materials and converting them to use materials and objects. The key point here is that waste material is used to create new items for use. A great example of this is the use of old waste paper and creating new paper from it in an office environment. Major fast-food companies like McDonald’s use recycled paper in place of normal paper to conserve the use of resources.

    An item that is ‘recycle-able’ is deemed to be fit for use when it has reached the end of its life. Materials like paper, rubber tires, cardboard, most electronic items, some plastics, and a few others are items that can be recycled for future use.

    Waste is collected and then certain types of materials are separated. Metals are separated by using magnets, for example. Different tactics are employed to separate different kinds of materials like glass, plastics, or paper. In some sporting facilities, human workers will go through the waste and sort material types by hand.

    These will then be used to make new products.

    Examples of Recycling

    There are many types of recycling. Here are some of the most common ones.

    Natural Products

    Waste generated from the kitchen and waste from natural products can be used to make compost. Compost is generally referred to as a mixture that is used to add nutrients to the soil by use of bio-degradable materials. Items like fruit and vegetable waste, waste food, eggshells, bread, etc. can be used to make a mixture that can be fed into the soil.


    Metals are probably the most recyclable materials on Earth. In fact, car manufacturers will go out of their way to purchase scrap metal to melt down and use in manufacturing new cars and other items. Most planes as well are made from lightweight aluminum that once could have been a can.

    What is Upcycling?

    Upscaling is the creative use of old and waste products to make them into new and better quality materials. It differentiates from recycling (or downcycling) in how the material is handled. In recycling the new material formed is of a lower quality or lower standard. Realistically no one really wants to use lower-quality products.

    Handmade art in progress
    Handmade art in progress

    Old products are given new value and the end result is a better product that people would want to use. The actual end goal of the product in upcycling is a better quality product from the materials it was used to make.

    Art products are a good example of upcycling. Old items such as used candles and wires will be used to make toys. Similarly, the process of refurbishing old electronic items is also considered upcycling since an old quality product is being transformed into a better one, and theoretically, the time and resources saved in making a new product would have been saved.

    Examples of Upcycling

    The thing about upcycling is that it isn’t separated into specific categories like recycling is. Literally, any old item can be repurposed into a new item. Old watch parts are used to make jewelry, a stack of books can be hollowed out to make a lamp and an old fat monitor can be converted into a little house for a cat.

    The concept of industrial upcycling is relatively new and has not been yet vastly implemented but examples exist. Recently, a company by the name of TerraCycle announced that they would be upcycling old diapers and would be using them to make new park benches.

    Delta Airlines was also in the news as it announced that it would upcycle old uniforms into new bags and passport covers. L’Oréal also announced a partnership with Loop Industries to upcycle old PET plastic into Loop PET for endless use.

    Similarly, man products around the common home environment can be reworked into something more useful. Old car tires are usually worked into bedside tables or coffee tables. The ingenuity ends only where your imagination does.

    Recycling vs Upcycling

    Recycling vs Upcycling depends on a lot of factors such as availability of waste, sorting, and processing of waste, etc. What it ultimately comes down to is, what is helping to save the planet? Well, it can be argued a combination of both works but in an environment where you are doing one of the two, you usually cannot do the other.

    The argument for upcycling is that everyday objects that otherwise might have been wasted around us are given new life and used for many years to come. But the argument can be also made that the time between them ending up in the dump has only been extended. For example, how many times could you rework those old tires into something new? Or even slightly purposeful? There is no set way to mass-upcycle as it were with recycling since the waste can literally be anything.

    Final Thoughts

    Recycling is using raw materials to create new albeit lower-quality materials. There is an easy and fixed way to collect and process waste. We know what we are getting with the end result.

    With upcycling, it is a hit or a miss. And the life of the product is not increased indefinitely either. If you at all care about style either you would not want an upcycled product in your house unless it has been made to perfection.

    Thus in the Recycling vs Upcycling fight, recycling is the clear winner. Do you agree?

    Feel free to share your thoughts and comments in the section below.


    Julie Kim August 14, 2018 at 5:37 am

    Thanks for the post! I know about recycling, but I never heard of upcycling. I think it is a great idea to upcycle. Let me know if there is anything I can do to support upcycling.


      TGC-LTGW August 15, 2018 at 11:07 pm

      Hi Julie,

      I’m so glad you are willing to join the movement. The easiest way the support upcycling is to buy the art that is created from used material. In some cases, they create amazing stuff that you can use at home. I am sure there is a store or someone selling upcycled products in your neighboorhood.
      Thank you for taking some time to read this article 🙂


    Christen Thomas August 14, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    I’ve never heard of upcycling before, but really like the term! I love making old things like new and try to do that myself with old clothing. Thanks for the reminder for how important it is to protect the world.


      TGC-LTGW August 17, 2018 at 10:45 pm

      Hi Christen,

      I am glad you find it informative. Feel free to look around at other blogposts. There is much we can do to reduce waste.


    Angee August 14, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    Upcycling is such a noble idea. My question is how to upcycle without becoming a hoarder, as almost every item is worth upcycling? I have learnt a lot about recycling though. I buy second-hand furniture and upcycle it. Thanks for a great article.


      TGC-LTGW September 4, 2018 at 1:21 am

      Hi Angee,

      That’s not necessary the case. Not every recyclable material can be up-cycled. The main idea is that the up-cycled material will have a higher value than the material it’s made of. If the value is the same or less than we are simply talking about recycling. No matter which method we choose, let’s continue with with our contribution towards a cleaner environment.


    Caorlyn August 14, 2018 at 1:46 pm


    I like the article but I really love upcycling… I just love what creative people can do with something old and make it fresh and new.

    Recycling is not a clear cut winner for me 🙂


      TGC-LTGW September 10, 2018 at 9:02 pm

      Hi Carolyn,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
      It really depends on the goals you have and what you wish to contribute to. Recycling is well known and I’m sure you can easily find a recycling center in the neighboorhood. Upcycling, on the other hand, is a bit more challenging. There are companies/artists that upcycle but those are not easily found in comparison to the recycling centers but that shouldn’t be an obstacle. Like you, those who wish to upcycle should do it.


    WinB August 14, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    Recycling is still what the majority of people do with materials that can still be useful. For upcycling, I think it is very rare.
    I usually recycle things such as cans, newspapers, cardboards, and clothes.
    I just thought that if all people make it a habit to recycle things, it will make them more creative in many ways.


      TGC-LTGW September 14, 2018 at 5:40 pm

      Hi WinB,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
      I think people just need to get used to the idea of upcycling. There are companies who tell you right away that they use waste to upcycle and create valuable material like leave leather. What we can do to help is providing them with the material they need but not all companies have to process in place to receive waste. They usually go out and collect it themselves from recycling centers.
      Here is a crazy idea: People at home can start their own business with upcycling. Use waste to create craft and sell them.


    Dave September 1, 2018 at 12:45 am

    Thank you for this informative article. I didn’t know that up-cycling is a thing. I’m most familiar with recycling but I have to be honest that sometimes it turns complicated. There are several type of materials that can be supposedly recycled but the recycling centers don’t recycle all the recyclable material. Sounds confusing right? Do you know why recycle centers don’t recycle everything? It would be much easier that way.


      TGC-LTGW September 14, 2018 at 6:03 pm

      Hi Dave,

      The main reason is that there is plastic that is toxic and shouldn’t be recycled. The easiest way is for companies to stop using this material but since they apparently don’t care and won’t stop what we can do is simply don’t buy these products.


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