Recycling from the bottom up
It was back in 1994 that the term “Upcycling” was used for the first time, by former German engineer Reiner Plitz, then popularised a little later, in 2002, in the book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things” by William McDonouch. Since then, Upcycling or the art of giving a second life to objects has generated a lot of research work and there have been a number of books on the subject.
It was born, quite naturally, in developing countries, where access to consumer goods is limited and systems for waste collection and processing are often non-existent. It has now spread to the developed countries, which find it a major source of inspiration..
A new economic and environmental concept
Upcycling means recycling from the bottom up. A new generation of designers are no longer content with recovering materials and objects in order to give them a second life; they are enhancing these materials so that the result is more attractive than the initial product: an aesthetic and ethical approach, with a strong emphasis on the notion of creation.
Upcycling is reusing, but not just in any old way: the object is appropriated and modified to make it original and useful. It is often removed completely from its regular use and given a new purpose.
An eco-responsible movement
Let us take the example of an old pallet: it only needs a coat of paint to turn it into a table. A tyre, once it has ended its life as a tyre, can also become a seat, a bag or a jewel, and a plastic bottle can become a highly fashionable button. Cabinet-makers use their wood offcuts to make more furniture and new jeans are made from old pairs. In short, with upcycling you can consume without feeling guilty!
Recycling or upcycling?
What is the difference between upcycling and recycling these materials?
n both cases, an object at the end of its life is recovered to make another object. But whereas recycling involves thermomecanical processing, thus using water, energy, etc., upcycling does not change materials. It can also be said that a recycled product will often be of quality equal to that of the original material. With upcycling, an attempt is made to add value to the product, often in an artistic manner.
Whatever the case may be, it can be considered that upcycling is a form of recycling. We should add that recycling can be carried out on a large scale whilst upcycling remains something of a private affair. A little like the difference between industry and crafts.