Differences Between Recycling, Upcycling and Downcycling.

Updated: Sep 18, 2019



Recycling is when you convert waste into a reusable material. It is the process used to make waste or other materials suitable for reuse. To alter or adapt for new use changing the essential form or nature of waste or certain materials altering their original form. This is an energy consuming process. It might imply the use of dyes (chemicals) to alter the color of certain fabrics.


Recycling is an alternative to conventional waste disposal that can save materials from going to waste helping to lower greenhouse gas emissions.


Recycling aims at environmental sustainability by substituting raw materials and redirecting waste outputs into the economic system.



Upcycling is reusing waste without destroying it in order to form something new. Upcycling is more energy efficient as recycling takes waste products, breaks them down, then forms them into something new.


The goal of upcycling is to prevent wasting potentially useful materials by making use of existing ones. This reduces the consumption of new raw materials when creating new products. Reducing the use of raw materials can result in a reduction of energy usage, air pollution, water pollution and even greenhouse gas emissions.


In some cases, little energy is required to reuse a discarded product, an example would be second hand clothing. In other cases, the energy required to recover the materials is more than the energy required to process virgin materials. Thus, in some cases, upcycling may be worse for environmental purposes if energy comes from fossil fuels.




Downcycling or cascading, is the recycling of waste where the recycled material is of lower quality and functionality than the original material, downcycling can help keep materials in use. Most recycling is actually downcycling; meaning it reduces the quality of a material over time. An example would be when plastics other than those found in soda and water bottles are recycled, then they're mixed with different plastics to produce a hybrid of lower quality, which is then molded into something amorphous and cheap, such as a park bench or a speed bump.

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