Upcycling and recycling. 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.

Upcycling v Recycling blog image-minDefinition 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.

The benefits of upcycling

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.

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.

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.

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. For example, plastic can be recycled about seven to nine times while paper can be recycled about four to five times.

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.

If you’d like to find out more about how you can lead a sustainable life and limit your environmental impact on the earth, our other blog posts may be of interest to you.