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Recycling VS Upcycling, what's the difference?

The concepts of recycling and upcycling are frequently employed within discussions surrounding environmental preservation, yet they are often misused and misinterpreted by many.

Example of upcycled plastic materials by enviromental artist Maria Nissan - 2022

To understand the significance of these practices and their impact on waste reduction and resource conservation, it is imperative to have a understanding of these two different terms.


Recycling involves the collection and reprocessing of used materials, such as glass, paper, metal, and plastic, into new products. The objective of recycling is to reduce waste and minimize the extraction and processing of raw materials through the transformation of used materials into new products. Recycling usually requires significant investments, machienries, and energy to transform used materials into new ones. For materials such as plastic, recycling is often considered as a failed concept.


Moreover, too often, the cost of recycling makes it less economically viable while the environmental footprint generated is detrimental. Particularly because of the CO2 emissions generated during the process.

@Alex Fu

Upcycling, on the other hand, involves taking discarded items and reconstituting them into new products of superior quality. In contrast to recycling, which prioritizes breaking down materials into similar items, upcycling aims to add perceived and econimical value to the original material by converting it into a completely distinct product. It is considered as a more eco-friendly approach, as the quantity or ressources used are limited.


For instance, the conversion of old newspapers into new paper is an example of recycling, while the transformation of worn out t-shirts into reusable shopping bags constitutes upcycling.

Example of an upcycled tote bag by @AverageButInspired

Misunderstandings regarding the distinction between recycling and upcycling can have detrimental consequences for the environment. Furthermore, misperceptions regarding these practices can lead to a false sense of environmental responsibility, hindering progress toward actual waste reduction and resource conservation.


In conclusion, recycling and upcycling are both integral components of environmental preservation, each possessing distinct aims and outcomes. To achieve a more sustainable future, it is necessary to comprehend and properly implement these practices.

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