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[NEW - ENVIRONNEMENT & SOCIÉTÉ] Upcycling vs recycling

By Ella Brown

Reading time: 5 minutes

While often used interchangeably, the terms “upcycling vs recycling” are actually very different processes that are completely unrelated, but are both very important from an environmental perspective. 

Recycling

We often think of recycling as setting a bin of used glass, plastic, and aluminum cans and bottles on the side of the road to be picked up and taken to a recycling plant, to later be broken down and reused again. 

While this is true, it’s still important to understand how recycling works and why recycling is so important for the environment.

As defined by Merrier-Webster, recycling is, “to process (something, such as liquid body waste, glass, or cans) in order to regain material for human use.” 

In other words, recycling is an industrial process that breaks down the old, used materials to create new, useable materials. 

For example, if you have a shirt that has holes and cannot be donated, you can take it to a textile recycling center. At the textile recycling center, the shirt, along with many other articles of clothing and textiles, will be sorted by their color and material and industrially processed to re-create their raw fibers.

Once the shirt is at its raw fiber (such as cotton, flax, wool, silk, etc.), it will be washed, spun, and re-dyed to be used as new material. It is increasingly popular for clothing companies to buy these new, recycled materials for their own clothing designs.

The same, or a very similar recycling process, is possible with glass, metals, plastic, and paper. 

Upcycling

Upcycling –sometimes also known as creative upcycling– is a way in which you can recycle on your own without using an industrial process at all. All you need is a pre-loved material and a bit of a creative touch. 

Merriam-Webster defines upcycling as, "to recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item," or, "to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value)."

So, to upcycle basically means finding a useful way to use a material or product that would otherwise be wasted and sent to the landfill.

Say you have an old, rickety chair that no one uses but your cat. Instead of sending the old chair to the landfill, you could remove the cushioned seat and make it a plant stand. Or, you could go all-out and re-upholster the cushion and re-stain the wood to make it look like a completely new chair.

The opportunities are endless, really when it comes to upcycling.

Why are upcycling and recycling so important?

Upcycling and recycling are increasinly important to our environment because it helps us re-use the materials that we already have, keeps materials out of landfills, and minimizes the use of natural resources. 

It is especially important to