Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Upcycling vs. Recycling

upcycle recycle question symbol

So, in my efforts to label the items I feature in my blog, I became stumped when dealing with the upcycle/recycle tag. What made something upcycled as opposed to just recycled? For that matter, what the heck is the difference between the two?

Turns out, it's not too easy for anyone to define.

My initial thought was that if you turn something that would normally go straight to the trash into a craft or art then it would be recycling. If you turn something that wouldn't necessarily be trash into an art/craft, that would be upcycling. 

--But then that didn't make sense... really, if you're turning trash, which is low in value, into art, which is high in value, it'd make more sense to call that UPcycling since you're bringing the material UP in the value level. Recycling would make more sense as turning something of any given value, possibly high, into another high value item... you're just turning one thing into another, or recycling it. But that didn't seem right just because of our fairly set ideas of what recycling is. Sigh... Time to do some Googling, lol.

So, Wikipedia says this, Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value which goes along with my initial thoughts. 

It says this about recycling, Recycling is a process to change (waste) materials into new products to prevent waste of potentially useful materials, reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials, reduce energy usage, reduce air pollution (from incineration) and water pollution (from landfilling)... It gives some specific examples of what can be recycled, such as glasspapermetalplastictextiles, and electronics. -- I take this to mean as opposed to the more specific jeans, keyboards, wine bottle, etc., which are not necessarily trash.

--So far, I'm still confused.

Terracycle states: Upcycling is defined as using or valuing every aspect of waste in order to give it a new useful life." & "Recycling is defined as extracting materials from one product and using them to make an entirely new product.

--Wait, what? That's not much of a differentiation there, but I guess it makes sense...

Intercongreen, a site all about sustainability takes a little different stance. On upcycling: A process that can be repeated in perpetuity of returning materials back to a pliable, usable form without degradation to their latent value—moving resources back up the supply chain.  An example given is tin cans melted down and made into new cans.

They also have this to say about upcycling: More than once I have seen people broadcasting their “upcycling” habits like making wallets from tires, or lawn chairs from pallets, or tables from wire spools. These are examples of recycling. None of those materials are going back UP the supply chain (the series of processes that an industry uses to create a product or service.) They are just making the chain a bit longer.

On recycling: When plastic bottles are recycled, for instance, most often they cannot be turned back into containers associated with anything that can be ingested due to the risk of things seeping into the plastic. As a result, these usually become carpets, or toys, or winter fleeces: things that will eventually also become trash. Recycling has simply prolonged the inevitable by stretching out our waste stream and made the lifecycle costs of the material a bit less.


Maybe there's the "technical" and possibly true usage of the term that people in the sustainability field use, but with the recent surge of DIY incorporating the term into their craft it has just come to mean making new things from old things. 

Personally, I think it's just a trendy term and just plain sounds better that saying recycled.

So there you have it. I'm sticking to my original thoughts on usage and the RECYCLED label will go on items that have been made from things that *I think* would otherwise go straight to the trash, such as these Fused Bottle Business Card Holders and UPCYCLED labels will go on items that have been made from something else that would otherwise still be usable (but possible old/torn/broken/etc) like these Lego notebooks.

Does anyone have comments or thoughts on the difference in the two or on the recent increased usage of the term Upcycled? I wanna hear your thoughts!

!!!OH, I do want to voice my thought on using these terms when they don't really apply. Example: if you PURCHASE your plastic grocery bags to use in your craft it is NOT recycling. hmmm... is it upcycling though? I truly don't believe so, but maybe you have a different opinion.

Keep creating!

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