What's the difference between Upcycling & Recycling?

Whilst both upcycling and recycling are important components of a “closed-loop” manufacturing system, there are key differences between the two. 

In our last blog post, we talked about the waste hierarchy and it’s management. The waste hierarchy suggests recovery activities which in ordinary language we call recycling and upcycling. Whilst upcycling or downcycling are both examples of recycling, there are clear distinctions between the various ways we can reuse waste.

What is the difference between them?

What does upcycling mean?

Upcycling is a process of giving an increased value to an object or material which could produce waste. Upcycling can be seen as an art in which you can express what an object is able to give you apart from its baseline purpose. 

Upcycling adds value to the waste materials and takes less energy to process. It also reduces the requirement and consumption of new raw materials by making use of existing ones. This results in a reduction of energy usage, water use, pollution and carbon footprint, whilst conserving resources.

Pallets, for example, are commonly used to make many interior design products. They basically are built to satisfy the logistics industry but they end up in houses or gardens, for instance, as shelves, sofas, bed structures.

Packaging can also be reused and reinvented for other purposes. For example, food cans can be painted or left with their original silver surface to be used as pen holders or to hold makeup brushes and other accessories. 

Another example concerns collecting lids of cans and making a piece of art with them! There are so many different and interesting pictures on the top of bottles, why not to keep them for a new mirror frame? 

What does recycling mean?

Recycling can also be seen as downcycling. It takes more energy to process and results in something with lesser value than the original object. Recycling reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators, thus saving emissions associated with waste.

For example, If you were to take denim jeans and shred them, the materials could be used as insulation. In this case, the denim has less value but can be reused instead of ending up in landfill initially.

Another example is paper. By recycling paper, less energy is required to cut and transport logs, as well as to transform the pulpwood into paper, which is an energy intensive process. Also, the paper would not need to be burned, which would have otherwise released carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It takes 70 to 90 % less energy to make recycled paper, and since energy available may not always originate from renewable sources, this reduces emissions even further.

There are problems associated with recycling include the energy required as well as the difficulties with separation of raw materials. However, there are many successful products produced from recycled content, some of which include aluminium cans, carpets, glass containers, newspapers, and more.

Overall, recycling is important to mitigate climate change and reduce production of greenhouse gases.


In both cases the materials are reused; upcycling prolongs the useful life of materials, and the new object can still be downcycled in the future.

Whilst we need to try to consume less and reuse as much as possible, resources are not available infinitely therefore recycling and upcycling are vital to our future.

What do we do?

At Kleiderly we use a low-energy technology to turn waste clothing into a completely new material, which can be turned into many different products. Thus creating a truly circular economy.


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