Recycling vs Upcycling: Which is Better?

Recycling vs Upcycling: Which is Better?

Recycling vs Upcycling: Which is Better?

Dira Eco-Friendly, Going Green, Green Living, Home & Office

We have come to know of recycling through the years as a means to re-use 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.

Recycling

Conventionally recycling is referred to the process of using waste materials and converting them to useful-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 of recycled paper in the 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 sorting 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 fruits and vegetable waste, waste food, egg shells, bread etc. can be used to make a mixture that can be fed into the soil.

Metal

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 less 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, 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 waste 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 the 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.

16 Comments

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.

Reply

    Dira 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 🙂

    Reply

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.

Reply

    Dira 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.

    Reply

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.

Reply

    Dira 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.

    Reply

Jane August 14, 2018 at 1:43 pm

I am so glad you wrote about this because I never heard about the term upcycling before. I always thought that with art, for example, it was a recycling of the material. Now I know I was using the incorrect term. Regarding recycling vs Upcycling, I guess it depends what you want to achieve with the final products. If you want to create something of value than upcycling is better. If you want to create affordable alternatives for everyone then recycling is better. If I’m wrong please let me know I want to learn more…

Reply

    Dira September 10, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    Hi Jane,

    You got it. That’s exactly it.
    I am glad it was informative for you.
    Thanks for the continuous support 🙂

    Reply

Caorlyn August 14, 2018 at 1:46 pm

Hello,

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 🙂

Reply

    Dira 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.

    Reply

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.

Reply

    Dira 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.

    Reply

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.

Reply

    Dira 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.

    Reply

Jade September 1, 2018 at 12:51 am

I have seen art made from recycled material and brought several times products that were made from waste. Didn’t know it was called up-cycling but the name is very fitting and interesting at the same time. There are many ways we can contribute with reducing waste and very simple way is buying the art that other product is made from recyclable material. In any case it has been an interesting read. Keep them coming!

Reply

    Dira September 14, 2018 at 6:04 pm

    Hi Jade,

    Thanks for stopping by! I am glad you enjoyed the reading and keep buying more upcycled products:)

    Reply

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