There are two common methods of recycling something that is no longer needed: Upcycling, and Downcycling. Upcycling is a catch all term for creatively re-using or upgrading a product or item that no longer has any use or has become unwanted. An upcycled item is by definition environmentally friendly as it has been made or partially made from something that already existed and in the process gained value. Materials can also be upcycled through a manufacturing process that alters it’s quality but this can also be less eco friendly. Downcycling is the flip side of this, this refers to converting an item into something of lesser value, a lot of common recycling methods do this.
Recycling is the process of preventing the waste of materials by making use of them in a new fashion and in the process sparing the landfills. It involves stripping an object back to its basic components which are then fed back into the beginning of the manufacturing process as a raw material. We commonly recycle glass and paper through local amenity facilities and most metals invariably end up in scrapyards for recycling. Recycling provides a valuable resource of raw materials, making more products sustainable and eliminates the waste management issues created by the overuse of landfills and dumping. Most materials can be recycled, however the process used to extract the raw material can often be prohibitively expensive. In plenty of cases things are not recycled because it might cost more or it might use more energy than what is needed to make it from scratch.
Upcycling is an increasingly popular way to re-manufacture or re-purpose an item without breaking it down to its raw, constituent materials. This process provides the opportunity to delay the decision to dispose of an item indefinitely, extending the life of the material content, whether it be wood, plastic, metal or fabric. Articles of clothing can be altered to change the cut or be restyled to keep up with changing trends. Practically anything is possible – hats can be made from coats, shirts from skirts and all manner of accessories can be re-imagined with somebody else’s cast offs. Furniture is quite often chopped and changed in order to gain a new lease of life. The accessories above are made from recycled London Firehoses, they look incredible and have a great story to tell!
Designers are working on innovative new ideas to reuse and upcycle a range of products deemed to have reached the end of their usable lives. By using materials that were built to last it is possible to side step the influence of current trends and to transform everyday items, reproducing stunning new creations that are hard wearing and contemporary in their styling. These recreations by their continued existence are considered sustainable and use less energy than any other form of recycling.
Downcycling is the most common form of recycling, it refers to converting a product back into its component elements and then using these where possible in the creation of a new item of lower value. This occurs when it either isn’t possible, or doesn’t make sense to restore each of these component parts to their original quality or better. A good example is the use of car tyres to make safety surface for playgrounds or running tracks.
Downcycling is not at all a bad thing, it keeps materials in use, lessens our reliance on new raw materials, reduces energy consumption due to a lesser or non-existent production process, and lowers greenhouse gas emissions too!