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Recycle Vs. Upcycle: Is There a Difference?

Posted by Christal Earle on

Upcycle and recycle are two words that can confuse many of us. They often get used interchangeably.

Does it even matter?

Should you care as long as you are doing it?

As it turns out, there is a difference - and knowing will help you understand how you can effectively do more of both.

To begin with, upcycling starts with recycling. However, recycling doesn't necessarily continue with upcycling.

Confused yet ? (smile)

Basically, recycling is the process of changing items considered to be waste into new products. This is done to prevent waste of potentially useful materials AND reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials. This involves everything from plastic bottles being made into toys and tires being made into asphalt. But you already knew this, right?

Recycling is available all around us and has become a multi-billion dollar global industry that is helping to change how we see the resources available to us. It helps to prolong the life of a material and keeps it out of landfills longer.

And in a world of fast fashion, consumerism and inequality, recycling is at a least a basic step we can all agree to start with. 

However, here's where the difference comes in...

Within recycling, there is a huge distinction between the two ways it happens. They are known as either downcycling or upcycling.

  1. Downcycling involves converting materials into lower-grade products. 

    Essentially, items are still being recycled, but they return in a lower quality and functionality. Some easy items to think about in downcycling are things such as recycled papers from previously manufactured wood products, creating rags from clothing, etc. 

    Downcycling is important because it still keeps items circulating and still helps us to extend the lifetime of an item without using the same amount of resources to create something brand new. It helps to reduce the consumption of raw materials and the energy needed to produce things from scratch - but it doesn't eliminate the need for materials completely to re-use the items. 

    Although downcycling is probably what most of us equate recycling with, it's not the only option. 

  2. Upcycling is the process of converting old or discarded materials into something useful and often beautiful. Upcycling is about giving an item a new purpose without compromising what it still essentially is. 

    First of all, upcycling reduces the consumption of new materials. 
    The goal of upcycling is to prevent wasting potentially useful materials by making use of existing ones. Reducing the use of new raw materials can result in a reduction of energy usage, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and many other resources. 

    Second of all, upcycling has been happening for many years before it ever became an official word. 

    Out of sheer necessity, people facing difficult financial constraints around the world have found ways to continually upcycle materials that they knew could be used in different ways without complex changes. 

    Our tire soles are an example of this. Using tires as soles is not a new concept. They have been being used by people all over the world since almost as long as tires have been in existence. However, for us, upcycling tires and inner tubes is growing into a torrid love affair with possibility. It's exciting to think about all the different ways resources can continue to be used in the state that they are and without adding a greater burden to the earth's resources.


    Finally, upcycling isn't complicated. It simply requires a willingness to think differently about what you already have within your hands to use. 

    And this is why we should care. You and I hold the means within us to think differently about how we use items, what we consider to be beautiful and where we want to invest our energy and resources.

    When we are willing to think differently about the part we can play in the world for a better future, there is cause to be inspired. Creativity is our unique human super power that we can all participate in. 

    Upcycling is the exciting side of recycling that we are endlessly fascinated with at Brave Soles. We don't have all the answers, but we are on a journey to learn how to give our customers the opportunity to feel good about what they own.

    Fashion should feel good on you and on the earth.

    If it does, it will also feel good for your soul. And we think your soul deserves to feel great (smile)
recycle Sustainable Fashion upcycle

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