If you’re trying to live a more environmentally friendly life, you’ve likely heard of upcycling and recycling. And although they sound similar, there’s a difference between the two. But what is the difference between upcycling vs. recycling? What are the benefits of each? And do you need to get started? Read on to find out. 

Upcycling Vs Recycling: What’s the Difference? 

recycled yoga mat
Source: InstagramA yoga mat made from recycled wetsuits.

You’re probably used to the idea of recycling by dropping items off kerbside or at other facilities near your home. Recycling is the process of taking products that are no longer needed—such as plastic bottles or rubber car tires—and turning them into new items or materials. 

That new item might be pretty similar to the original, like a recycled plastic bottle made from old plastic bottles. However, recycled materials can also be wildly different from the original: Yoga mats have been made from recycled wetsuits, and skateboards from old fishing nets! These days, manufacturers are pretty creative with how they use recycled materials.

As an individual crafter, maker, or designer, you might think that your ability to recycle is limited to putting your used takeout containers in your recycle bin or composting your veggie scraps. But while most of us don’t have the ability to make a new recycled material at home, we can still get involved in recycling in other ways. Making crafts from recycled materials is one option, and it’s easier than you think: Shopping for clothing, fabrics, or crafting accessories from thrift stores or second-hand stores is a simple way of recycling.

In the upcycling vs. recycling debate, upcycling is even more accessible. It’s the process of taking an old or discarded object and revamping it in a way that makes it better. Think of an old, uninteresting table that is sanded down, painted a new color, and given new decorative features. Upcycling can also be pretty similar to recycling, in that old materials are repurposed to make something different and new—for example, old t-shirts cut into strips to make knitting yarn.

There are a lot of crossovers between recycling and upcycling, but one of the main points of upcycling is to take an old item and make it better so you don’t need to buy a new item at all.  

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Benefits of Upcycling

  • It’s sustainable, as you’re avoiding buying a new item and simply improving an old one.
  • It saves you money if you don’t have to buy a new replacement.
  • You can express your creativity through upcycling clothes and crafts, getting a unique item that reflects your style.
  • You can do it at home with easy-to-find craft supplies.

Benefits of Recycling

  • Waste is repurposed into something completely new, meaning fewer items go into a landfill.
  • Product and industrial designers can get creative with how they use recycled materials.
  • Everyday items can be more ecologically friendly than their old-fashioned, non-recycled counterparts.

Post-Cycle Material Uses

There’s some similarity between upcycled and recycled products, and some of the following items could fall into either category. No matter the difference between upcycling and recycling, they’re easy to get started. 

Whether you want a project you can do quickly from things you have lying around at home or something more complex made with environmentally friendly materials, here’s some inspiration. 

Upcycled Materials

stitching pieces together
Japanese-style boro fabric made from stitching pieces of old fabric together. It’s an example of upcycling and recycling.
applique cherry
Applique is the process of upcycling by sewing scraps of fabric onto clothing to create new designs.
painting of an owl
A painting framed with wood scraps foraged from nature.
cactus in a tea cup
Use old teacups, mugs, bowls, or teapots as plant pots.
koi pond
This decorative upcycled tabletop started life as a very simple old table.
decoupage glass
Skillshare student Lakshika Somani turned old glass bottles into pretty vases.

Recycled Materials

crocheted plastic bag
These plant pots are crocheted from old plastic bags.
hand made paper
You can hand make paper from recycled materials.
tote bag
Source: instagramThis bag is made from recycled sail cloth, for an extra nautical feel.
Source: InstagramA skateboard made from recycled fishing nets.
rainbow rug
Source: InstagramRugs made from recycled materials. If you’re crafty, you can even weave your own.

Get Started with Recycling and Upcycling

Whether you want to go big with grand recycling or upcycling projects or just take small steps toward a more environmentally friendly life, we hope you’ve been inspired to get started. A good way to begin is to take a look in your garage or storage cupboards and browse in thrift stores to see what could be repurposed. Avoid buying new items if a craftier alternative is available. Have fun!

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Written By

Elen Turner

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