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Upcycle vs Recycle – What Are The Key Differences

If you have been particularly keen on waste trends and how you can better do your part for the world then you might have learnt that only 5% to 6% of all the waste generated in the U.S (40 million tons) was recycled in 2021.

Is this the best we can do?

The same statistics shows that the total bottle recycling rate for 2020 was 27.2% which was a serious drop from 28.7% in 2019.

Now that 2.5 million plastic bottles are thrown away every hour in the US, every sector in the market encourages people to consider different methods of repurposing materials as a way of waste management.

Upcycling and recycling are the two main methods of repurposing waste materials but most people end up getting confused especially when it comes to the differences between these two methods, requirements and definitions between the two.

In this brief, we will talk about these two methods of repurposing waste and help you make a decision.

Whats the Difference between Upcycling and recycling

It’s a common practice to recycle products or materials that are no longer useful. But what about the materials that are still in good working order or that can be reused for other applications. Here are some good ideas for reusing your trash and cut down on waste.

Do we just throw them away? Or, can we use these materials again?

When to Upcycle?

The answer is yes! Most of us have seen people upcycle items like old books, old furniture, technology and other objects into something new which is also known as reusing or repurposing.

In layman’s terms, the definition of Upcycling is finding another use for an old item or material and making something out of it that would be equal to greater value.

Example: Home Salvigers use old wood from old barns and houses to build a brand new home or to use the old wood to build new furniture. If you are a thrifty and creative person then upcycling is a great way to get high-quality materials and items for free or a cheap price and turn them into something of greater value.

When to recycle?

Is recycling the same as upcycling, Is this the same thing? Well… not exactly. Recycling refers to the destruction of waste with the intention of creating something completely new.

The main difference is that recycling will mean that the waste material such as water plastics will be cut or destroyed and eventually remolded to something new such as plastic tiles. Or old vehicles are put through a shredder to separate the different alloys for later remolding and shaping into new products to prevent excess waste.

Why do we need to recycle?

The reason to recycle may not be obvious to many, but the key reason is to prevent excess pollution and the depletion of natural resources to prevent harmful waste. The initiative is for the preservation of our planet for generations to come.

The megatons of plastic and metal waste currently going into landfill every year has highlighted various environmental and health concerns for the future which is why recycling has become such a pertinent topic for governments around the world.

Its still little known to many that plastics and other man-made materials can take 100 to 1000 years to fully decompose, and many of these dubious materials going into landfill are still unknown to scientists about the knock-on effects that these will have for future generations.

Why do we need to upcycle?

Upcycling is not as talked about as recycling as it should be, but both have parallel benefits to the cause. Simple reusing and repurposing of items and materials before they are thrown into the trash prevents waste, pollution, and economic energy.

The present case is with the electrical and technological sector. From the boom of technology in recent years we have seen an increase in electrical waste due to companies building products that are meant to fail just outside of the warranty period or are deemed irreparable by the manufacturers.

Products that were sold pre-2000s would usually be built to last your entire lifetime and if they weren’t then they could be repaired. However many companies have been steering away from this ideology to make everything cheaply that fails quicker for higher profit.

Would you believe me that there was a time when every consumer product that was sold came with its own schematics and repair guide? These times are long gone and this is why upcycling where it makes sense is so important.

TL;DR The benefits of Upcycling are obvious benefits of saving the environment and a creative way of turning an old product or material into something new and useful.

What can be recycled?

In the current world, there are many things that can be recycled. However, its not surprising that more than 2/3 of the households don’t know what should and what shouldn’t be recycled.

So what do you think should be recycled?

Here’s a list:

More examples of Upcycling and recycling

The first difference is that Upcycling is typically used to turn something old and unwanted into something new without destroying, cutting or modifying the product, while recycling involves taking items and turning them into new things through destruction.

  • For example, if you want to make a necklace out of an old piece of jewelry, you would upcycle it into something new.
  • Using old wood to build something new out of it, like a desk, chairs outdoor setting or a veneer for a part of your home.
  • Metals, if you can fold, cut, weld then you can manipulate metal in ways to create something new.

Thought Exercise: Look around your home and find the things that can be reused into something brand new and decide if you would like to try it yourself.

Does Upcycling eliminate air pollution?

Upcycling will eliminate the chances of air pollution because it doesn’t involve a long reproduction process.

In some instances, the recycling process would mean transporting the material to the correct center for processing, cutting the plastics into smaller pieces, passing the plastics through extreme heat, adding some other raw materials, and eventually coming up with new products which can be dangerous to the environment.

In Summary

Recycling is practical, Upcycling is creative

From the definitions above, it is easy to realize that Upcycling is more of creativity than practicability. Upcycling involves a wide variety of creative tricks and techniques to repurpose the finished product.

On the other hand, recycling is more of a documented process of turning different wastes into different finished products.

Now you know what Upcycling and recycling mean and the key differences.

These two are repurposing methods that ensure less waste ends up in the landfill and at the same time provide cheaper repurposed products.