Upcycling vs Downcycling: What’s The Difference?

Not all recycling is equal, and before you load up your recycling equipment, you should be aware of the types of recycling and what they mean for your business. Many organisations have a one track mind when it comes to recycling, and consider items as either being able to go into recycling machinery or not. The truth is, recycling is a lot more fluid than that, and there are a lot of different aspects of it that need to be considered. Both upcycling and downcycling are options for employing valuable materials and preserving natural resources, but what do these terms really mean, and when should we be using them?

What Is Upcycling?

Upcycling is sometimes called creative reuse, and it is the process of transforming waste products into something with more quality or value. Think about when you are making biscuits, and there is the excess dough left from between the cookie cutter. It can be rerolled and used again to make even more biscuits. This is essentially what upcycling is; turning waste into something valuable.

While some individuals are skilled at upcycling old furniture or garments, it is more commonly used at a manufacturing level. This allows for cost and material savings on a much larger scale. By-products from many manufacturing processes don’t need to go straight to recycling machines but can instead become something usable and valuable.

Many industries are seeking ways to upcycle in their manufacturing process. It is a method commonly used in fashion brands, where by-products like leather, foam, and rubber can be used to create new products. A great example is Nike Grind, who are part of the famed shoe brand and are using leftover materials to create new Nike trainers, build playgrounds and sports courts, and partner with other organisations to create phone cases and other products.

What Is Downcycling?

On the other end of the scale is downcycling, which transforms post-consumer products or unused items into lower quality goods. It works by quantifying the longevity of the materials, compared with upcycling which reuses the same materials for new products. With downcycling, degraded materials are not able to be used for upcycling because they often lack structural integrity.

Downcycling can keep waste out of landfill, as it is a method used on materials which would otherwise end up in the bin. Some professionals in the recycling machinery industry believe that plastic recycling is a form of downcycling, because recycled plastic will never have the same structural integrity as new. Many big brands are adopting downcycling initiatives, for example Heinz have set up a programme in which they use old ketchup bottles to create roofing materials.

Ultimately, upcycling is considered a more sustainable option because it extends the lifespan of a material before it is degraded. Both upcycling and downcycling are excellent ways to reduce business waste and minimise what is going into recycling equipment or landfill. Many companies are looking at both upcycling and downcycling initiatives to work alongside their existing recycling strategies.

For more information on recycling methods and waste recycling equipment, contact our team today.