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What is Upcycling?
Blog...What is Upcycling?

What is Upcycling?

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kitchen sink set up
In this article, we’ll explain what upcycling is, how it is different from recycling, the benefits of upcycling, and how you can start upcycling yourself at home.
kitchen sink set up

Consumers have undoubtedly become more aware of their purchasing habits, with up to 75% of people making an effort to reduce their plastic consumption – but despite these efforts to improve recycling, many people are unaware of the benefits of upcycling.

Upcycling is a new trend which encourages consumers to transform their original purchased product into a new item that they will continue to use in their everyday lives.

In this article, we’ll explain what upcycling is, how it is different from recycling, the benefits of upcycling, and how you can start upcycling yourself at home.

What does upcycling mean?

Upcycling refers to the process of people modifying their old products and turning them into “new” products that can be used again – often seeking to be more functional than the original product was in the first place.

In a sense, upcycling is a way to give your old product a second life – so even if it eventually needs to be recycled, the user is still getting extended use out of the item they originally purchased.
what is upcycling thumbnail

👉 It is important to remember that the majority of items which are upcycled are items that would usually be thrown away or attempted to be recycled after its use – such as empty jars, old fabrics and pieces of clothing, or packaging materials. 

Oftentimes, as people seek to make their “new product” into something they can find more useful in their day-to-day life – the upcycled product is usually more functional than the original product. However, accomplishing this will require innovation and creativity on behalf of the consumer – seeing as upcycling demands extensive attention to detail and the various parts of the product that must be removed or  revamped in the process of upcycling. 

Many people will use upcycling for various reasons, such as:

  • Seeking to become more sustainable or adopt green ways of living;
  • Trying to cut back on unnecessary costs, such as refraining from purchasing new clothing items – therefore turning to upcycling for ideas to rework their existing wardrobes;
  • Developing one’s innovation skills to a new level, and ultimately – may be viewed as a challenge or practice for artists to challenge themselves creatively.
plants in jar upcycled

What are some examples of upcycling?

Some examples of upcycling include seeking to upcycle fashion, old spices, candles, and furniture.

In reality, almost anything can be upcycled – as long as the product is being revamped to be used past its intended use, an item can be considered as an example of upcycling.

Here are some of these examples of upcycling explained in more detail:

  • Clothing – Perhaps one of the most well-known examples of upcycling, seeing as fast fashion has made people around the world more cognizant of the effects clothing has had on climate change – such as excess pollution and unsustainable supply chains. However, upcycling allows both consumers and fashion companies alike to get creative and think of new ways to reuse old clothing garments for future use – avoiding the need to toss them in the trash or send them directly to thrift stores.
  • Spice Jars – Plastic spice containers are often more difficult to upcycle, but glass spice jars are often viewed as upcycling gold – as it’s easy to replace another spice into the original container. 
  • Candles – Especially during the holiday season, burning a scented candle in your home may be a traditional way to welcome people into your home while simultaneously cutting back on energy consumption. However, many people are lost with what to do with candles after they’ve burned them to the bottom – often attempting to recycle them, even with the metal or wicks still intact. 
  • Furniture – Second-hand or antique shopping isn’t just a great way to cut down on the cost to purchase new furniture, but it is also viewed as a form of upcycling – seeing as many antique stores will often make an effort to refurbish or restore old pieces of furniture for future use. In addition to this, people can reupholster or re-paint their chairs or other furniture – turning them into unrecognizable pieces without having to buy an entirely new set or throwing the old furniture away.

👉 Upcycling will require awareness and creativity on behalf of either the company distributing the product or the consumer purchasing it, but in the end – upcycling is a tool and habit that can be practiced amongst the majority of things we buy and use throughout our lives. 

pile of old jeans

What is the difference between recycling and upcycling?

The main difference between recycling and upcycling is recycling is the process of breaking down the materials from a product which can be reused again by manufacturers – such as paper, plastic, metals, and glass. Upcycling, on the other hand, refers to the process of utilizing those materials in their existing form to be used again – without the need for extensive processing. 

Therefore, one of the overarching advantages of upcycling over recycling is that it mitigates the need to entirely disassemble a product, melt down materials, and wait for them to be used. Upcycling takes advantage of the already existing materials and aims for them to be re-used in their current state.

Ultimately, recycling refers to the user hoping the item being recycled will have a second life – while upcycling is the consumer taking matters into their own hands and ensuring the product they purchased will have a second life.
upcycling vs recycling

Additional differences between upcycling and recycling include:

  • Upcycling allows the consumer to take advantage of the materials provided, whereas recycling still requires the original consumer to trust the manufacturer or company to re-use their recycled product;
  • Upcycling can allow any product to be repurposed, such as items that cannot be recycled at all – where as recycling can only benefit products or companies which produce and sell products made of non-biodegradable materials; 
  • Upcycling is more versatile than recycling, seeing as a product can turn into an entirely new item as a result of upcycling – whereas recycling is often done with the intention of using the recycled material to re-create the same exact product;
  • Upcycling prevents the need for products to go through the intensive, industrial process of recycling – which already creates a carbon footprint on its own.

👉 While both recycling and upcycling provide the opportunity for a material to be reused before it finds its way to the landfill, they differ as recycling can go awry and upcycling allows the consumer to have full control over the future of the re-worked item. 

person holding a lit candle in jar

Why should upcycling be used more often?

Upcycling should be used more often than it currently is because it helps to ensure that resources are not thrown away, improperly recycled, and are used to their full potential.

Upcycling allows for numerous benefits, such as allowing the consumer to prevent spending excess money on new products, reducing the overwhelming demand on behalf of the current recycling system, and promoting the practical benefits of creativity.

Here are a few more reasons why upcycling should be used more than it currently is:

  • Man-Made Materials & Sustainability Don’t Mix – Many man made materials that aren’t biodegradable, such as styrofoam and car tires – both of which can be upcycled into new, more useful items and ultimately help to avoid excess greenhouse gas emissions in the landfill.
  • Preserve Scarce Resources – Some resources, even if ethically sourced, are short in supply – meaning as a species, we should do everything to maximize their use instead of seeking to harvest an already limited resource – and upcycling can help to accomplish this challenge.
  • One-of-a-Kind Items in Your House or Office – If you’re looking for a splash of individuality in your home, there’s no better way than to show off some of your upcycled products. In fact, guests may notice these in your home and be inspired to try upcycling themselves. 
  • Improving Handy-Man Skills – Something broken down in your house or at the office? Subscribing to the practice of upcycling can help to further develop not only your crafting skills, but ability for problem solving – which can come in handy in both your personal and professional life, as well as when a repair is needed at home or in the office.
  • Supports Local Businesses – Many of the local businesses in your neighborhood probably make use of upcycling to create and sell their products, especially stores or gift shops selling one-of-a-kind trinkets or souvenirs. This means that upcycling can not only help the environment, but help small businesses struggling in our difficult economy.

👉 Many people choose recycling over upcycling as it takes less time and effort, but the benefits of upcycling often outweigh those presented by recycling. 

person wearing dress out of plastic bags

How can you start upcycling at home?

You can easily get started with upcycling with the help of the internet and social media for inspiration, such as by looking on Pinterest, Tik Tok, Youtube, Instagram, and blogs for inspiration on how to rework some of your existing items into new, upcycled materials.

One of the most important parts of upcycling is to choose to upcycle an item you purchase consistently, but also to choose an upcycling project that will bring you joy – which will give you more motivation to move forward with future upcycling projects.

Here are some of our tips to make upcycling accessible to you:

  • Start Small – Certain upcycling projects may seem overwhelming, such as refurbishing furniture or removing the wicks of candles. Therefore, it’s best to find upcycling encouraging by starting with smaller projects – such as with clothing or using old spice jars to fill with other products.
  • Make a Shopping List – There’s nothing more frustrating than being in the middle of an upcycling project and not having the materials you need to finish. Therefore, we recommend making a list of all the things you need for your upcycling project before starting to help mitigate aggravation.
  • Upcycle What You Like – With any project, it’s always best to have intrinsic motivation of some sort – meaning it’s important pick upcycling projects that you’ll be likely to continue in the future. For example, if you enjoy cooking or kitchen organization – it will feel easy to upcycle an old spice jar. Another idea is if you like gardening, it will feel convenient to turn that old spice jar into a new plant for herbs or small plants. 

Overall, upcycling is a trendy yet effective way to play your part in the midst of climate change and push for greater sustainability – and seeing as upcycling can be done with just about anything, the opportunities to complete these small projects and changes are truly endless.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article on upcycling has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Seeking to understand how upcycling could have an impact on your business can prove difficult to understand, but don’t worry – Greenly is here to help! Click here to book a demo and get personalized expertise on how you can start to reduce your own emissions and decrease your environmental impact.

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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