Recycling versus Upcycling: What’s the Difference and Which is Better?

You’ve probably heard the green movement’s mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Where do other buzzwords like “repurpose” or “upcycle” fit in the equation? Is upcycling any different from recycling? Keep reading to find out.

What is Recycling?

Recycling, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, means “to make something new from something that has been used before; to send [items] to a place where they are made into something new; to use something again.”

Although this definition is fairly broad, most people hear the word “recycling” and think of blue bins with the triangle of arrows, or white bags full of paper shredding. They usually think of items being sent to a recycling facility where they are broken down into raw materials and then sent to other areas of manufacturing to be used again.

As the definition suggests, however, there are multiple ways that something can be recycled without being sent to a facility and broken down into raw materials. One of these methods includes both repurposing and upcycling—two words for the same thing.

What is Upcycling?

Upcycling is simply one way to recycle something. You can think of it as a mix between “reusing” and “recycling.” The phrase is often used in the world of home improvement and crafting. The prefix “up” indicates that a previously used, now useless item is changed into something with a different function. The idea is that trash is being upgraded to something that serves a pragmatic function.

If you type “upcycle old tires” into a search box on Google Images or Pinterest, you will see how creative people can get with worn-out items. Some of the upcycled tire projects on the internet include:

  • Planters
  • Dog Beds
  • Swings
  • Sculptures
  • Yard Ornaments
  • Jewelry
  • Playground Equipment
  • Wall Décor
  • Clocks
  • Indoor/Outdoor Furniture
  • Tables
  • Ottomans
  • Sand Boxes
  • Backyard Ponds
  • Shoes
  • No-slip Stair Grips
  • Bike Racks
  • Chandeliers
  • Frames
  • Stairs

Which is Better?

Since upcycling is just one form of recycling, neither option can always be said to be better than the other. If you are asking whether you should reuse your old tires or take them to a recycling facility, there is a definite answer to that: use the form of recycling that will be the most effective in helping the environment.

Many “upcycling” projects tend to be somewhat crafty. Crafts are fun to make, but often, completed projects have zero pragmatic use in daily life. Remember that adorable snowman you made out of stacked terra cotta pots? It looks good, but it doesn’t match any of your other winter decorations, so it sits in your closet collecting dust.

The other word for upcycling—repurposing—literally means “to find a new purpose.” For example, if you turn your old tires into planter in the back yard, you will save money on buying new planters and will keep those tires from filling up space in a landfill.
If you can think of a way to use your old tires around the house, then do it. If not, it would be better to take the tires to a recycling facility and let the recycling professionals find a use for them.

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