What Is Upcycling?

by | Jun 13, 2022 | Waste Management

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Upcycling refers to various processes by which an ‘old’ product gets converted to a ‘new’ product. Manufacturers of upcycled materials modify and give the old products a second life by mixing and aggregating materials, components, and items and turning them into something new. In other ways, it represents materials that get to be re-adapted or re-purposed creatively and differently. The lifespan of upcycled products is, therefore, expanded.


To upcycle a product means to reuse it in a way that increases its original value. Upcycling supports a circular economy. A circular economy is one in which products and goods get reused and re-purposed endlessly rather than getting discarded after just one use. Upcycling is sustainable since, in upcycling processes, we use what we already have rather than constantly plundering the Earth for resources.

1. Upcycling in fashion

Production processes in the fashion industry require large amounts of water, energy, polluting chemicals, and other resources. The fashion industry is one of the industries causing the most environmental pollution. The fashion industry’s supply chain often isn’t ethical. Therefore, upcycling comes as a solution to all the industry’s problems. Small artisans benefit from it.

People drop off damaged clothes they can no longer wear at upcycling centers. At the centers, workers disassemble the textiles and reuse them to create new pieces of clothing, cases, or anything their creativity allows them.

2. Upcycling in furniture

Upcycling in furniture refers to taking old, wasted, and broken furniture and re-purposing it. Upcycled furniture can include broken cabinets whose shelves you can screw into your walls to use as plant holders, or you could even paint them and hang them up as decoration pieces. Any household and broken furniture item can be made into something new for your home.

3. Industrial upcycling

A few manufacturing organizations are working to reuse the waste in products that re-enter consumer cycles. There are organizations that plan waste collection programs for waste that is impossible to recycle. The organization then produces various products from park benches and pencil cases to tote bags and food packaging from the waste.

Upcycling Vs. Recycling

Recycling takes materials like metal, paper, glass, and plastic and breaks them down. The products created from recycling are typical of inferior quality to the original product. On the other hand, upcycling does not break down materials. Instead, it sorts and reuses material more fashionably, giving the upcycled products a higher value.

Even though recycling helps reduce the amount of waste ending up in landfills, it still has carbon emissions associated with it. Upcycling, in theory, contributes to the reduction of carbon emissions. We reduce carbon emissions through upcycling since we extend the lifetime of the products, materials, and components. We also spend less energy extracting and transforming materials into products.

Also, with recycled materials or materials destined for recycling, we consume and emit a large amount of energy due to the products’ transportation, sorting, cleaning, melting, and purification. But with upcycling, we spend relatively less energy since the only process that happens here are cleaning and assembly/disassembly of parts.

How Does Upcycling Benefit the Planet?

Upcycling highly benefits the planet. It accomplished two things at the same thing:

1. It creates new products

2. It uses materials we already have in the creation of those products

Giving old products a new life reduces our need to extract resources from the Earth and use unsustainable materials like plastic to create new products. Think about how some companies today produce shoes from old plastic water bottles. Upcycling can, there, also help us reduce our plastic waste.

There are three significant benefits of upcycling. They are:

1. Minimizes the extraction of natural resources

When you choose upcycling, you choose to reduce the extraction of raw materials and the creation of synthetic materials because we already have what we need. This can go a long way in making our industries more sustainable. With upcycling, industries can reduce the number of resources they consume. Think about all the trees we could save from destruction if we choose to have upcycled furniture made from pre-used wood in our homes.

2. Reduces waste in landfills

Upcycling saves products from ending up in a landfill. We can only recycle plastics once or twice before they end up in a landfill. Upcycling saves plastics from this fate. Products can last much longer with upcycling than with recycling.

3. Fewer carbon emissions

With upcycling, we help preserve natural resources and reduce the need for manufacturing.

Turning raw materials into new products leads to the release of carbon emissions. In the United States, manufacturing units account for 23% of the country’s total carbon emissions. Even recycling leads to carbon emissions. Upcycling, on the other hand, is a manufacturing process with the fewest associated carbon emissions.

How Can You Upcycle?


Upcycling may seem complex to anyone at first. How could you possibly turn plastic bottles into shoes? But don’t worry. There are countless direct and indirect ways you can contribute to upcycling and a circular sustainable economy.

1. Shop from businesses that upcycle

This is the easiest way to upcycle. If you don’t have crafty fingers to make all those DIY items from the upcycle videos on YouTube, many businesses do that work for you.

Some beauty businesses use pre-used materials like ground coffee beans in their skincare products. There are even upcycled clothing and food brands that you can shop from.

When you choose to shop from a business that upcycles, you contribute to a more sustainable industry. Additionally, it tells retailers that consumers demand upcycled items. It pushes to implement more sustainable practices in their production methods. In a 2019 Forbes survey, 93% of global consumers expect more brands to support social and environmental issues.

2. Give old items a new purpose

If you do have crafty fingers, there are many easy projects you can try at home. Many ideas are available online, like turning old rugs into a pinboard, using old t-shirts to make hanging plant holders, or stitching a tote bag from plastic bags. Upcycling opportunities are endless.




  • Dr. Emily Greenfield

    Dr. Emily Greenfield is a highly accomplished environmentalist with over 30 years of experience in writing, reviewing, and publishing content on various environmental topics. Hailing from the United States, she has dedicated her career to raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices.


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