The term Upcycling is relatively new compared to the term recycling. The word Upcycling entered the collective consciousness in the early 2000’s whereas the concept of public recycling as we know it has been around since late 1900’s. So what is this new term that’s getting thrown around and how does it differ from what we know as recycling.
According to the national environmental protection agency, recycling is:
“The recovery of useful materials, such as paper, glass, plastic and metals, from the MSW (municipal solid waste) stream, along with the transformation of the materials, to make new products to reduce the amount of virgin raw materials needed to meet consumer demands.”
According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of Upcycling is:
“To recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item : to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value)”
At first glance it would seem that these definitions overlap however the difference to note is that recycled products involve transformation of the materials whereas an upcycled product, in contrast, is made from parts of a product at the end of its useful life and does not involve using chemical or heat treated processes to break the material down into its elementary forms.
Recycling aims to source products made with similar materials and use multi stage processes to separate a discarded consumer product into its basic elements for repurposing. Upcycling is the reuse of materials by converting material considered waste to produce usable products by using the material “as is”.
So in effect, upcycling is essentially the clever reuse of a material at the end of its useful life by giving it a second life. Reuse is the second R in the popular ethos that was the catalyst for the Upcycling movment put forth by William Mcdonough – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.