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What Does Upcycling Mean and Why Is It So Important What is the difference between recycling and upcycling

Upcycling is a great thing to do, but is often confused with recycling and overlooked for its environmental benefits. So in this blog post we will seek to address the questions What Does Upcycling Mean and Why Is It So Important? What is the difference between recycling and upcycling?

What is upcycling?

Upcycling is a way to turn old things into something new, without breaking the product down into its raw materials (as recycling does). So you essentially take an old object and give it a fabulous new life.
Sadly, many good quality things still end up at the rubbish tips. Whether it’s perfectly usable furniture, electronics, or clothing, it’s a sad sight to see valuable materials and resources going to waste. It requires a bit of creativity, but it can be great fun creating something new out of something old, and there is lots of inspiration and ideas online.

When we recycle, we take old materials, break them down, and turn them into new materials that we can use to make new products. However, while recycling is one of the best ways to reduce your environmental impact and repurpose old materials, there is a way to take your eco-footprint one step further — upcycling.

While recycling is great for the environment, the process can take time, and end up being a while before the item is finally given a new life. With upcycling on the other hand, you can reuse or repurpose something yourself, and give it a new lease of life, which is great for items that aren’t so easy to recycle.

Why is upcycling important?

The world has about 8 billion people on it, and we produce a lot of trash, which has sadly been filling landfill sites and harming the environment. The average household in the UK produces more than a tonne of waste every year. Put together, this comes to a total of 31 million tonnes per year! The population is growing year on year, which means we need to produce more of everything, which in turn creates more rubbish. So, instead of filling up our landfills with more waste, it’s important that we take the time to recycle more and upcycle as much as we can. Read more here on why landfills are bad for the environment.

So, what is the difference between recycling and upcycling?

The two terms recycling and upcycling sound similar, and can often be confused. Whilst both have a goal towards improving sustainability and helping the environment, making less go to landfill, they both have two quite different meanings which we will break down for you.
Upcycling is when you reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original. Upcycling basically provides things a second existence, it revives the object but with a higher user value than what it had in its previous life. This reinvention process is even more valuable when the discarded items are somewhat unique.
Recycling is when waste is put through a process and made into reusable material. When you recycle an item, it goes back into production and is transformed into a completely different item. Recycling can happen over and over again and depending on the item, there is usually some loss of recovery each time you go through the cycle.
Upcycling essentially helps you achieve two of the 3 ‘R’s of recycling: REDUCE and REUSE. It helps you reduce what is going to landfill, and reuses the product you were going to throw away, giving it a second life, without the need for “degrading” it.

Upcycling inspiration

Here are a few easy items that you can upcycle at home instead of throwing them away. Don’t need them or want them yourself? Your trash could be someone elses treasure, sell your upcycled items on ebay, or start a mini business for it!
Furniture is a good place to start… Before you throw away that old bedside table or chest of drawers, think about whether you could give it a new lease of life. Older furniture has character and was built to last, so it’s a shame to condemn it to the tip. Why not invest in some chalk paint to give it a shabby chic feel? You can try changing the handles and lining the drawers too, to create your own unique piece. There are so many great ideas online to take inspiration from.
what is upcycling

  • Repurpose your old clothing

There is so many fabric items that can be made out of clothing that isn’t fit to be donated to a charity shop. It doesn’t need to go to landfill! Clothing can be transformed into things like face masks, cushion covers, tote bags or shopping bags and much more! Get creative, you can dye clothing, or add applique or embroidery details to create something that looks like new. Your imagination is your only limit!

  • Make decorative picture frames

If you’re thinking of ditching old picture frames, think about whether you could get creative and redesign your own. All you need is spray paint and maybe some embellishments. Think gluing seashells glued a white or blue picture frame for a piece of art for your bathroom.

  • Wood can be made into so many different things…

Old pallets can be made into outdoor table and chairs… the ideas are endless on what wood can be made into – All you need is a sander, a saw, and some paint.

  • Old container? Beautiful new planter

Containers of any kind can be filled with soil and used for gorgeous indoor or outdoor flower pots, or mini herb gardens. I’ve even seen old shoes and welly boots used for this purpose, a brilliant quirky and unique decor display to impress your guests. Or even upcycle your old tyres or drawers into a unique plant holder that you can continue to cherish even after it’s worn out it’s previous use.

  • Turn old maps, sheet music or book pages into something unique

Physical maps are hardly needed these days thanks to maps on our phones and in our vehicles… so if you have any tucked away in a drawer, they don’t have to end up in the bin. Get crafty and make flowers out of it for an interesting bouquet display, or frame it with you repurposed picture frame for some unique wall art. You can even cover an item of furniture like a side table top or drawer front with it… the same goes with old sheet music or old books!

So many of the old objects that would be going to landfills can actually be repurposed and turned into something brand new (upcycled)! There are so many things that can be upcycled, the sky is the limit! Even if your project doesn’t turn out as you hoped, you can always go back to the drawing board and give it another go. You’re only limited by your imagination. Try turning some of your trash into treasure today! You get the idea, the ideas are endless!

What to consider if you want to upcycle?

Upcycling aims to save materials and resources from ending up in landfill, just like recycling. Asking yourself these questions if you want to upcycle something will help you choose projects that are going to have the most positive impact on the environment, and be the most beneficial in creating something useful for yourself and preventing more waste in landfill:

  • Is it actually going to keep the item out of the waste stream long-term?

  • Will your upcycled creation really work when it’s used instead of something new?

  • Is the item you’ve upcycled just a novelty, or is it really useful / will be used?

  • Will it inspire others who see it to give upcycling a go?

When it comes to rubbish, we know our stuff. Disposing of waste correctly is everyone’s business, whether you’re a business owner, householder, landlord, or you are in charge of any private or public sector organisation. We focus on helping and providing solutions for businesses achieve their sustainability goals. In our large range of recycling and waste bins, there is something for every business, you can even design your own bespoke recycling bin to best suit your organisation!
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