What are the benefits of upcycling

How useful is upcycling? Advantages and disadvantages of the trend

Upcycling: A Dangerous Trend?

Throwing away was yesterday. Upcycling is the new trend when it comes to making something new out of the old. Sarah studies sustainability and quality management in Berlin and sees upcycling as a dangerous development that is anything but sustainable.

Upcycling, upcycling, upcycling - everything is upcycled that is not nailed down. At least that's the impression I get when I enter “upcycling” on Google and after half a second I get hit with over 16 million results.

Old suit pants are turned into skirts, truck tarpaulins are turned into bags and old bottles are turned into lamps. I have the impression that everything can simply be reused and thus escape its terrible fate - becoming garbage. I keep reading sentences like: "Recycling helps, but upcycling is even better."

But what exactly is upcycling and why is it better than recycling?

What is upcycling?

Upcycling converts useless materials and substances into new products and breathes new life into them. In contrast to recycling and downcycling, upcycling enhances a product. In order to be able to evaluate what 'upgrading' means, it depends on the direction from which you look at it. If you can't do more with a cotton shirt than process it into a cleaning rag, then this is called "downcycling". However, if you look at the whole thing from the point of view of the cleaning rag, which is saved from energetic utilization (incineration), then you can definitely speak of "upcycling". So it's a matter of perspective.

So far so good. So now I know what upcycling is. Still, the question remains: why is upcycling better than recycling?

Is upcycling better than recycling?

The advantage of upcycling: The life of products is extended and waste is avoided. However, this is more of a life-extending measure than it would help the products to immortality. That said, sooner or later most upcycled products end up on the trash, just like their non-upcycled counterparts. If that happens, the question is whether the upcycling has changed anything at the end-of-life of the product? In other words, is an upcycled pallet less sustainable at the end of its life cycle because it has been converted into a dining table and varnished? Does the paint release harmful substances when burned?

Although PET bottles look more like objects of art, they still don't just disappear.

Disadvantage 1: upcycling boosts production

Even if you avoid garbage through upcycling or postpone the generation of garbage, it does not solve the problem of resource consumption. In the case of the pallet, for example, the pallet is no longer available to the person who bought it, and can no longer be used. For him it makes no difference whether the palette is used as a bed in a beautiful purple paint or ends up in the incinerator. The fact is, a new one is needed.

In the case of PET bottles or materials that can be easily recycled, new ones have to be produced if too many are withdrawn from the cycle. How should PET bottles be recycled and serve as the basis for new bottles when they all stand as a vase on the dining table? This means that fresh crude oil has to be used for production.

Thousands of bottles are withdrawn from the recycling cycle for actually good causes. This boosts production.

Disadvantage 2: upcycling makes reality more beautiful

The biggest weak point I see with upcycling is that it doesn't get to the root of the problem. At some point we will suffocate in upcycled products if we don't stop the flow of new products that push from below. Upcycling is a creative, positive way of dealing with the garbage problems of the present, but not a solution for the future.

Upcycling is without question a creative process with beautiful results, but it is not a solution for the future.

On the contrary: it makes reality more beautiful. "Rubbish? Oh nonsense, there is now upcycling! ". This is exactly what is suggested to consumers with sentences such as: “Upcycling - make new out of garbage” or “Upcycling: When garbage is useful”.

The conclusion of my research

Upcycling can be useful and upcycled products are often a real eye-catcher. But you have to take a closer look and not rush blindly to every upcycled product. Before making any purchase, we should consider whether we really need the part. Regardless of whether it is cycled up or not.

Upcycling is a creative, positive way of dealing with the garbage problems of the present, but not a solution for the future. On the contrary: it makes reality more beautiful. "Rubbish? Oh nonsense, there is now upcycling! Continue reading…

Author Sarah Pollinger produces vegan shoes and will soon open the first "Vetzgerei" in Berlin

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Sources: Image :, Depositphtotos / erix2005, happymay, sergey02, photographee.eu, text: Sarah Pollinger, Meike Riebe