Upcycling and Downcycling: What's the Difference?

By Mariana Guerra | 14ºC


Also known as creative reuse, it is the process of reusing and/or transforming old materials or objects into something new, thus increasing the useful life of these materials.

In the fashion industry, it is becoming an increasingly recurrent practice, where they reuse clothes, which would be thrown away, to create a new piece. This can be a good alternative to reduce the waste of this industry, which is one of its biggest problems.

What differentiates the upcycle process is the fact that the product itself is not deconstructed to create something totally different, but rather reused and transformed.

You can also upcycle old or damaged furniture, reuse different pieces and objects for the most varied purposes, it's all a matter of creativity. Some of the advantages of this practice are to reduce waste and unconscious consumption, reduction of consumption of raw materials and natural resources in the production of new products.


Recycling process where an object is decomposed and its residual materials are reused to manufacture a new product, of lower value and quality than the original product.

A common example of this practice is recycling plastic bottles and turning them into wool fibers, car parts, tubes, or joining with other materials to create a totally new product.

But what is the difference between dowcycle and recycling?

The main one is that in the downcycle the new product created has less value and/or functionality. A plastic bottle can be recycled up to twice in a new plastic bottle with the same value, until it has to go to the downcycle process where it will give rise to an object of lesser value.

This is a good alternative to prolong the life of products that would otherwise end up in the trash. These "new" products have the disadvantage of not being able to go through the downcycle process again, that is, this is their last phase of life time.

Another example of the downcycling process is the reuse of paper: High Quality Paper > Photocopying Paper > Cardboard for Packaging > Toilet paper or tissues.

Investing in more efficient and innovative processes for these two practices will revolutionize how we use products and drive a circular economy.




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