What is Upcycling?

What is upcycling?

The concept of upcycling is in vogue. And that’s okay! In a society of overconsumption, rethinking its waste is necessarily in tune with the times. It is in this sense that several specific initiatives were born: buying and selling second-hand clothes, selling books, telephones (even if they no longer work!)… There are plenty of initiatives to avoid throwing away, giving a second life to different objects, clothes, etc. ! Precisely, one of the trends that exist and that is all the rage is zero waste… and one of the currents that come from this concept is none other than upcycling. You ask yourself what is upcycling? We will answer this question in this guide.

The history of upcycling

It was Reiner Pilz, a former engineer turned interior designer, who first talked about the concept of “upcycling” in the early 90s. This word was later taken up by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in the book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things. In fact, they gave a name to a concept that had already existed for decades in developing countries (Africa, Asia), for which upcycling is a necessity because they have limited access to consumer goods.

Definition of upcycling

Upcycling is a recycling technique that consists of reusing old objects at the end of their life, damaged or broken and which would have ended up in the trash, to make products with superior quality. This is called top recycling. The objective of upcycling is to reduce waste by giving it a second life, to avoid throwing it away as much as possible. Upcycling is part of the circular economy.

Examples of overcycling:

  • Handling pallets used to make a garden bench.

photo credit: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surcyclage
  • I also came across a shop on the island of Oléron that has been upcycling for 30 years. The manager reused an old tray to make a wall decoration.

With upcycling, you can make many products: clothing, jewelry, decoration, art, accessories…

Here are 7 easy-to-do upcycling ideas:

The stages of upcycling

Before throwing an object, adopt the reflex of upcycling! Think about giving your object a second life. Here are the different stages of upcycling:

  • recovery of an object at the end of its life;
  • research to find out what to do with the object (you can search the Internet for ideas);
  • purchase of the equipment necessary for the processing of the product;
  • transformation of the object.

The benefits of upcycling

Upcycling offers many benefits. The first is to reduce waste and give objects a second life by making them superior in quality. Another benefit: thanks to upcycling, gray energy is saved (energy consumed to create a product). When a product is manufactured, it consumes a lot of embodied energy: you have to buy the raw material, create the product, package it, send it to the distribution site, store it, sell it, using it, maintaining it… Each of these steps uses gray energy (so-called invisible). However, with upcycling, the embodied energy used during the production of a product is considerably reduced.

With upcycling, we thus contribute to reducing the consumption of raw materials because we start from an already existing product to create another one… and we drastically reduce the pollution generated!

Upcycling can and will create a new industry. Brands will be able to be created around this concept, more ethical brands… You have for example La vie est Belt which designs belts from bicycle tires, climbing ropes or fire hoses. They also design underpants from linens:

The benefits of upcycling

As an individual, you can also sell your creations and thus kill two birds with one stone: earn money, while having an impact on the protection of the environment.

Finally, the last advantage of upcycling: creating unique and/or limited-edition products, which adds even more value to your work.

Differences between classic recycling and upcycling

Recycling has been organized for a while now, and that’s why we have several bins: the yellow bin for packaging and cardboard, the green bin for glasses and the brown bin for other household waste. There are also other types of trash cans depending on where you are. The objective of conventional recycling is to recycle different materials so that they can be reused to create products.

For example, with glass, we can make new bottles. With plastic, you can make garden furniture. With old newspapers, you can make recycled paper. Conventional recycling will thus make it possible to create material to recreate a product similar to the recycled product. On the other hand, with upcycling, we will be able to create a product of higher quality than the initial product.

Another difference between recycling and upcycling: in the context of conventional recycling, our contribution stops at the level of selective sorting, we do not contribute to the transformation part; while with upcycling, you can contribute yourself and make great products by being creative.

The concept of upcycling is not far removed from the concept of Do it Yourself. Many DIY tutorials give ideas for upcycling your objects: follow them to find inspiration. You can also participate in upcycling by buying brands that offer upcycled products.

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