From light fittings to headline-grabbing wedding dresses, upcycling is undoubtedly one of the hottest trends of 2019.
Although it’s likely that you’ve heard the word ‘upcycling’ before - you might still be wondering what exactly it is, and how it differs from other forms of recycling.
In this blog, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about upcycling:
- What is Upcycling?
- How does Upcycling Work?
- What Can You Upcycle?
- Upcycling vs Recycling: What’s the Difference?
- What are the Benefits of Upcycling?
- What are the Cons of Upcycling?
- What are the Benefits of Recycling?
- What are the Cons of Recycling?
- Upcycling Versus Recycling: Is One Better?
- What is Downcycling?
What is Upcycling?
Upcycling is a form of recycling that focuses on transforming unwanted items or materials into covetable, high-value upcycled products.
It can be as simple as taking an old piece of clothing or furniture and giving it some TLC, but it can also mean turning waste items or materials into something completely different.
Although upcycling isn’t a new phenomenon, it continues to gain popularity as consumers become increasingly environmentally- conscious about their shopping habits.
How does Upcycling Work?
If you plan on upcycling at home, then it is just a matter of getting creative with what you have to hand.
Upcycling on a company scale, however, is a process. When we make accessories out of inner rubber tubes, we must first source these tubes from where they have been discarded (within a 20km radius of the workshop).
Paguro works with Sapu, a group of artists based in the Indonesian town of Salatiga.
These tubes must then be transported to the workshop and thoroughly cleaned. Expert artisans sort through the tubes for uniformity and craft them by hand into the accessories you see on our website.
Each stage of the process undergoes an inspection, to make sure you get the highest quality products. It is a long process but it is worth it. For over five years, the collective has recycled over 3,660 tubes – that is, 12,810 kilograms of rubber diverted from landfills.
If you’re wondering what materials can be upcycled, the answer is: pretty much anything! Thanks to the magic of upcycling, many surprising objects can be repurposed into something completely different. Commonly upcycled materials include:
What Can You Upcycle?
- Inner tubes from tyres
- Plastic bags
- Plastic bottles
- Leather offcuts
- Oak Barrels
- Old clothes
- Bicycle chains
Upcycling isn’t just a trend: it’s a way of life. When you buy upcycled products, you can be assured that your items won’t just be unique, but also kinder to the earth as well.
Upcycling vs Recycling: What’s the Difference?
Both upcycling and recycling aim to benefit the environment by reusing waste products that would otherwise end up in the landfill. Although the processes of upcycling and recycling are similar, the end product can be very different.
The difference between upcycling and recycling is really the difference between upcycling and a process known as downcycling.
The two words are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually different things. Both have benefits for our environment and help control the waste we generate, but there are crucial differences between the two processes. Here is how you can tell them apart.
Definition of recycling and upcycling
Recycling is the term people are often more familiar with: it means reusing a product so that it has a longer lifespan before it gets discarded as waste.
A good example of this would be how we use plastic. After we discard a plastic product into a recycling bin, it is sorted, taken to a factory, shredded into plastic pellets and made into a new product. What is important to remember about this process is that the new product will be of a lesser quality than the original product, as the plastic is affected by the process of recycling.
This is true of all recycled products: the created product will be inferior in quality and value.
Upcycling begins from the same starting point as recycling – it aims to reuse a product so that it has a longer lifespan before it gets discarded as waste.
However, upcycling means reusing materials or a product to create something that has a higher value. Here at Paguro Upcycling, for instance, we use the inner tubes of old and discarded tires to make stunning necklaces.
What are the Benefits of Upcycling?
Sustainable fashion is definitely having a moment, and upcycling is a way of creating truly unique pieces that are kinder to the environment.
Unlike recycling, upcycling allows you to explore your creativity. Whether you’re transforming rubber tires into necklaces or making newspapers into flower pots, upcycling encourages you to look at an object traditionally considered as waste and see new potential in it. It is also an excellent activity to do with children, as it encourages them to see the value of items beyond what they were intended for.
Through upcycling, the world transforms into a place ripe with opportunity and creative potential, and children are encouraged to develop their mental flexibility. Many people sell the products they upcycle online or at craft fairs.
There’s a growing demand for eco-friendly, beautiful items that showcase creativity, so upcycling products may be an excellent way to flex your creative muscles and make some money on the side. Some of the benefits of upcycling include:
Reducing landfill waste
By upcycling, items that would usually end up in the landfill can get a new lease of life.
The US, for instance, may be rapidly reaching the peak capacity of their 2,000 active landfills. Creating new landfills is a problematic option, as landfills cause air, land and water pollution, and most communities are opposed to them.
Saving natural resources
Natural resources, including water, are commonly used in manufacturing - did you know that it takes over 2,700 litres of water to make a single t-shirt? When you buy upcycled products, you’re saving energy which would go into manufacturing a product from scratch- what better excuse to indulge in some retail therapy?
Unlike traditional recycling, upcycling allows you to use your creativity to take something traditionally thought of as ‘junk’, and see the new potential in it.
Upcycling is Unique
Upcycling is an antidote to mass-produced fashion - whether you buy upcycled items or make your own, they’re guaranteed to be unique and one-of-a-kind. At Paguro, we upcycle the inner tubes of discarded tyres to create jewellery, wallets, bags and much more.
Supporting Small Businesses
As the demand for environmentally conscious products grows, more and more people are turning their passion into a business creating and selling upcycled items. By choosing to buy upcycled products, you can up your green credentials whilst supporting independent businesses at the same time.
Upcycling also helps to reduce the amount of CO2 in the air in another way. Because upcycling reuses products, it diminishes the need for raw materials. Extracting and manufacturing raw materials is a major source of CO2 emissions, which has a disastrous effect on our earth’s fragile atmosphere. According to NASA, CO2 levels in the air are higher than at any time in the past 400,000 years. Unless we do something about it, this is only going to get worse.
What are the Cons of Upcycling?
It isn’t easy to transform a product into something else that has a higher value. The downside of upcycling is that there are sometimes few opportunities to recreate a waste item into an upcycled product, which can be frustrating. You may also need to buy additional materials to create the new item you imagine (such as tools, glue, decorative items, and so on), which requires investment.
What are the Benefits of Recycling?
The main benefit of recycling is the same benefit of upcycling: you reuse a product and prevent it from entering the landfill.
Increasing the lifetime of a product is environmentally friendly, and helps reduce the waste we generate as a planet. This is especially true for materials such as plastic, which takes years to biodegrade.
Recycling can be applied to a wide range of products and simply requires sorting your trash properly (i.e. knowing what can be recycled or not).
Of course, the actual process of recycling is more complicated, but larger industries handle this to ensure we are reusing what we consume.
What are the Cons of Recycling?
While recycling may seem relatively simple for us, it does actually involve money for the businesses involved.
The costs are usually outweighed by the benefits, however, and most cities find that recycling costs them less than garbage collection and disposal.
Recycling also creates a lower value product than the original. This means that an item can only be recycled a certain number of times before it has to be shifted to the landfill.
Upcycling versus recycling: Is One Better?
Both upcycling and recycling have their place in our efforts to combat climate change and reduce the negative impact we have on the planet.
Neither is better than the other: rather, they play different roles in the ongoing fight against climate disaster and should be used in combination.
What they have in common is their greatest strength – they reduce waste by encouraging us to be more mindful of our habits as consumers.
What is Downcycling?
Downcycling is a common outcome of traditional recycling, where a waste product to be broken down to its raw materials, and then turned into a new product which is often of a lower value.
An example of downcycling could be the way that materials such as plastic, glass, and paper are often recycled. As part of the recycling process, these items are broken down to their raw materials before being turned into a new product, which is of a lower value than the original.
This is in direct contrast to upcycling, where the resulting product is of a higher value.
Examples of downcycling:
- Turning writing paper into tissue paper.
- Repurposing old garments as rags or building insulation
- Converting plastic bottles into fleece fibres
Pros of downcycling:
- Reduces landfill waste by reusing items.
- Fewer carbon emissions involved compared with manufacturing new items.
- Waste items that can’t be upcycled can still be downcycled.
Cons of downcycling:
- Items can only be downcycled a finite amount of times.
- The value of an item decreases every time it is downcycled.
- Downcycling is a more industrial process, requiring more energy and resources than upcycling.