What the heck is Upcycling

What is Upcycling and what does it have to do with the environment?

I never gave much thought about taking waste materials and using them to make something useable.  I used to just think that was just recycling.  But noooo…I have learned a new word!

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.

The term Upcycling came from Germany

The upcycling concept was the title of the German book written by Gunter Pauli in 1997, the free translation of Upsizing (the opposite of Downsizing) book first published in 1996. The German edition was adapted to the German language and culture by by Johannes F. Hartkemeyer, then Director of the Volkshochschule in Osnabruck. The concept was later incorporated by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.


Upcycling has its own Magazine

This their definition….
Upcycling is taking an item that is no longer needed or wanted and giving it new life as something that is either useful or creative. This seemingly basic concept has sparked an exciting revolution with this generation.


What are examples of Upsizing in our everyday life?

Plastic bottles are not able to be used again for containing drinks or other liquids. Most frequently they are converted to rugs, or construction materials (sign posts, benches, decking etc.).

A simple example may be aged barn siding that is often taken and used for framing art or as art itself.

My wife was fascinated by a purse in Mexico made entirely of recycled candy wrappers.  Now there’s a good example.

Mosaic art is upcycling.  Broken ceramic pieces taken and artistically arranged into an art form.

Scrap metal is often taken and used to make yard art. My buddy Dale welded me a metal salmon welded to a tierod and then to a fan housing.  An altogether wonderful piece of yard art (see below).

I’m sure you have upcycled as well.  So now you know what its called!

Yard Art at its Finest...note the plastic decking!

Yard Art at its Finest…note the plastic decking!

Recycling on the other hand is defined as:

Recycling is a process using materials (waste) into new products to prevent waste of potentially useful materials, reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials, reduce energy usage, reduce air pollution (from incineration) and water pollution (from landfilling) by reducing the need for “conventional” waste disposal, and lower greenhouse gas emissions as compared to plastic production.[1][2] Recycling is a key component of modern waste reduction and is the third component of the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” waste hierarchy.


Upcycle or recycle, why not do both?

Visit your local landfill, visit your thrift shops, think twice about throwing something away that still has value.  Better yet, give it to a friend.


About rsingram

Environmental Specialist, Disaster Reservist, Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control, Para-Archeologist
This entry was posted in Economics, Education, Environment, Recycle, Upcycle and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What the heck is Upcycling

  1. Vee says:

    Like this a LOT — great examples of what some people are already doing, and inspiring all of us to be creative through “Upcycling”. I remember as a young girl, watching and learning from my Mom, how to make wool braided rugs. She used the family’s old clothes — Grandpa’s and Uncles’ pants, the girls’ and women’s skirts, Dad’s ties, blankets with moth holes — and we cut them in diagonal strips then sewed them together and braided them. The rugs were beautiful, and I still have one! On-and-off, I’m working on one myself, and love sitting on the floor stitching the braids together to form an oval. It’s probably going to take me a couple more years of intermittant work spurts, especially on cold rainy winter days. Didn’t realize I was “Upcycling”!

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