What is Upcycling? Common FAQs

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

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

What is Upcycling?

Upcycling is a form of recycling that focuses on transforming unwanted items or materials into covetable, high-value 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.

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.

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.

landfill waste

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

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?

Getting Creative

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.

Reduces CO2

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 any time in the past 400,000 years. Unless we do something about it, this is only going to get worse.

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).

upcycling process

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.

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.

Upcycling v Recycling blog image-min

You can read more about the differences between upcycling and recycling in our recent post.

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.

What Can You Upcycle?

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:

  • Inner tubes from tyres
  • Plastic bags
  • Plastic bottles
  • Furniture
  • 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.

For more tips on upcycling and living a sustainable lifestyle, take a look at our other blog posts here.