Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Upcycling: When Recycling is Not Enough

Upcycling: The term, gaining popularity in the mid 90’s, is often confused with a similar activity called recycling. Upcycling has become so popular that it seems almost impossible to avoid. It covers our social media accounts and floods websites such as Etsy and Pinterest. Its popularity may result from environmental issues, and social influence. The goal of upcycling, like recycling, is to cut landfills, and ultimately help the environment.
One of the major introductions of “upcycling” is the 2002 Book, ‘Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things’ by William McDonough and Michael Braungart’. This book focuses on the idea that we as consumers should strive to extend the life of a product beyond its original use. While the popularity of upcycling is a relatively new, the activity itself has been used for decades. Often in times of economic crisis, when people lacked money and material, they were forced to reuse everything in any way possible until items were no longer usable. For example, taking old clothing and making new clothing out of it.
It is important that we understand the difference between Recycling and Upcycling, because they are not the same.

What is Upcycling?
Upcycling is defined as the reuse of (often used or waste material) products that can be altered to create a product of higher quality or value. It’s the idea of “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Upcycling is often used creatively, like with fashion or crafts. Upcycled products can also be made for useful purposes. In many cases, the value of the item increases with the alterations. Often we could go onto a social media site and see pictures or videos about people making home décor or beautiful artwork out of items many people simply throw away. In simple terms, upcycling is a physical process that gives ‘new life’ to unwanted or used up items.

An Example of Upcycling: Using old books as shelves.

What is Recycling?
This process may sound similar to Recycling; the act of converting waste into reusable materials. Recycling is not often done for creative purposes, rather use the material to make another product with minimum alterations for use without changing the essential form of the original item. Taking consumer products such as metal, plastic, paper, and glass to make fresh lesser valued consumer products out of their base materials. In simple terms, recycling is a Chemical process that stretches out the lifecycle of a product.

Example of Recycling Process:

What is the difference between upcycling and recycling?
            The point of both, upcycling and recycling, also happens to be their biggest similarity, they both conserve the environment. The main difference between the two is that upcycling is used to increase the value or quality of the item. Another important difference is that recycling is often a chemical reconstruction of the materials, while upcycling is a complete alteration, making something completely new out of waste or used products. Upcycling does not involve breaking down products to their base materials, rather it uses products as they are, in their current state, to create a whole new item. Lastly, the possibilities each hold, upcycling involves an unlimited usage of materials, while recycling can only use the materials until they cannot be recycled anymore.
            Another important difference is the cost. While you may need to buy a few extra supply’s to make an upcycled masterpiece, it generally is cheaper than recycling. Admittedly, throwing something in recycling and not the trash is free to the individual and better for the environment; the actual process of remaking the material from its basic compounds takes fuel, energy, and manufacturing costs. That being said, on an individual level, upcycling may cost more, but in the grand scheme of things, recycling takes the metal for the cost. On another note, many upcycling items may be sold for profit, making the cost worth it.

How to Upcycle:
            There are many ways to upcycle, from art, to waste reduction, to profit. This Blog is dedicated to exploring some of these possibilities; as well as educating our viewers on the methods and forms that may be new or unfamiliar.  It’s possible that almost everything (that doesn’t decompose) may have unseen potential. Just to give you a little taste of how exciting upcycling can be, here is a video showing a guitar made from old textbooks. Enjoy…

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