Everyone has heard of recycling, but what about upcycling? Recycling is the process of turning waste into a reusable material or product. It involves taking common household items, such as paper, glass, and plastic, breaking down the materials, and using them to form another product that is often of lesser quality. For example, the quality of plastic and paper slightly decreases every time it is recycled.   

Upcycling, on the other hand, is a very specific form of recycling that turns waste into a material or product that is of a higher quality. You do not need to send items to a recycling center to be broken down if you want to upcycle. Instead, you just have to use your creativity to figure out new ways to repurpose or fashion items.

Examples of Recycling vs. Upcycling

To understand the difference between traditional recycling and upcycling, it may help to look at an example of each. Let’s say you receive a letter in the mail, open it, and realize there’s no need to keep it. Instead of throwing it away, toss this piece of paper into a recycling bin, and it will be sent to your local recycling center and reused to create recycled paper. This is an example of recycling.

If you were to take a stack of old newspapers and fold them to create a biodegradable flower pot, this would be an example of upcycling. You are taking a simple material (newspapers) and creating something of higher quality (a flower pot) all on your own. If you have a teapot with a broken lid and you choose to use it as a place to store all of your pens and pencils instead of throwing it away, this is also an example of upcycling.

Benefits of Recycling and Upcycling

Both recycling and upcycling reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills around the world. Also, both activities reduce the need for the production of new materials, which means there will be less pollution and carbon emissions produced by manufacturers.

Upcycling has several other unique benefits. If you have children, upcycling can be a fun way to introduce them to a greener lifestyle. It may not seem fun to separate waste into different recycling bins, but children will love using their imaginations to come up with ways to reuse items around the house. Once they become interested in upcycling, it will be easier to get them involved with other green practices.

Some people have even made a living by upcycling items and selling them for a profit, especially on websites such as Etsy, so upcycling can help the economy as well.

Should You Upcycle or Recycle?

Because there are so many benefits to both recycling and upcycling, there’s no need to choose one over the other. But, keep in mind that not every item can be upcycled. Depending on your creativity, you may find it difficult to think of new ways to repurpose certain items you no longer need. When this happens, turn to recycling instead of throwing the item away in the garbage.

Do you upcycle at home? If so, share some of the ways you’ve transformed items in the comments below!