We all know the term “recycling” and have been using it for a long time. If you are into fashion or design, you have probably heard the term “upcycling” too, which has become popular in the last decade and usually misused.

These two terms”are sometimes used interchangeably but the two processes are actually very different from each other.

Let’s start looking at what these terms mean and how they are different from each other.

What is recycling?

Recycling is basically 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.

Recycling concept places value on the resources and follows a circular model of:

use → recycle → reuse.

Some recyclables are 100 percent recyclable (e.g. aluminium and glass) and some recyclables can not be 100 percent recycled because they become weaker through the recycling process. For example, the quality of plastic and paper decreases every time they are recycled.

In the case of plastic and paper, recycled materials are mixed with fresh materials in order to create new products.

What is upcycling?

Upcycling is the creative version of recycling. It is often called “creative recycling” because of this. It is basically the activity of making new furniture, objects, etc. out of old or used items or waste material.

In principle, upcycling involves taking an item that would otherwise be waste and improving it in a new way to make it useful again. So it does not necessarily require an industrial process as recycling does.

Upcycling is widely used especially in clothing, fashion and design. For example, it is highly easy and useful to make a bag out of old and worn pants.

In recent years, many fashion brands and ateliers have started embracing this as a business model and selling only upcycled pieces. Why don’t they? It is highly cost effective, very compatible with fashion, and extremely fun to make.

Upcycling is highly creative and it involves a wide variety of techniques and materials to create the finished product. In other terms, sky is the limit and it highly depends on your imagination and craftsmanship skills.


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