If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me, “What is UPcycling? Isn’t that the same as REcycling?” I’d have about fifteen cents. But it is a question I often see online, and I even saw a tweet (yeah, I said it… TWEET) that said something like “There are a lot of made-up words that piss me off, but none more than ‘upcycling’ – so ridiculous and pretentious!”
I’ll admit that I am usually the last to adopt new terminology. I boycotted saying “KFC” for years. (It’s Kentucky Fried Chicken, dammit!) But the upcycle vs. recycle debate actually makes sense and I’ll tell you why. Hold on. Did I just admit that refusing to say “KFC” was irrational? Remind me to edit that out later.
My daughter is learning about Earth Day this week in school. Her class is talking endlessly about “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Awesome concepts, but not the same as upcycling. I’ll use a pile of newspaper as an example…
- I could REDUCE: If I have a daily subscription that I don’t read as often as I’d like, I could downgrade to just the Sunday paper. Even better, I could move to an online subscription and reduce the amount of paper that comes into my house.
- I could REUSE: Ok, so my husband likes to read the paper daily. I could take the old papers and use them to line the birdcage before trashing them… Reusing means that the paper will be used again as paper.
- I could RECYCLE: Once I have reduced and reused as much newspaper as possible, I recycle the rest – it will be broken down and made into new paper.
So how are these three R’s different from upcycling (besides the obvious answer: Upcycling begins with U?) The following are just a few examples of how I’ve upcycled newspaper. I have folded, bent and glued paper to make coasters. I have created beads. I have wrapped pencils in the comics and crossword puzzle. Upcycling uses the waste to create something more valuable than the original product, whereas recycling breaks down the waste to make a product of lesser quality.
Am I saying that upcycling is somehow better than recycling? Absolutely not!! Keep on recycling. Save the earth and all that jazz. I’m just saying that the word “upcycle” is legit. Some might even say “2 legit 2 quit.” I wouldn’t say that, but some might.