Upcycling and recycling are both important practices that can contribute to the sustainability of our planet, but these concepts don’t have the same meaning. Understanding the difference between the two concepts and how they can be used together can help us make more informed decisions about how to reduce waste and minimize our impact on the environment.
Recycling is the process of recovering materials that would otherwise be discarded. This can include for instance waste paper, plastic, glass, and metal, which are collected, sorted and reprocessed into materials and products that can be used for the same or new purposes. While recycling is important for conserving resources and reducing waste, it does require energy and resources to process the materials, and the resulting products may not be as high quality as those made from virgin materials, often leading to downcycling.
Upcycling, on the other hand, is the process of taking discarded materials and using them to create something new that is of higher quality or value than the original item. This can be done by repurposing the material in a way to add new functionalities and/or improved properties. Upcycling allows us to valorise resources that would otherwise be thrown away.
(Lomwongsopon and Varrone. Critical Review on the Progress of Plastic Bioupcycling Technology as a Potential Solution for Sustainable Plastic Waste Management. Polymers 2022, 14(22), 4996; https://doi.org/10.3390/polym14224996
Overall, upcycling and recycling are both important practices that can help to reduce waste and minimize our impact on the environment, representing key elements in the EU waste management strategy. By understanding the difference between the two and how they can be used together, we can make more informed decisions about how to live sustainably and protect our planet for future generations.
The European Union has set ambitious goals to reduce waste and increase resource efficiency, and both practices can help to achieve these goals. Upcycling in particular can be a useful tool for keeping the material in the loop and value chain, reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, and it can also help to create new job opportunities and stimulate the economy.