Often, what people consider Recycling is technically “Down cycling.”
Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials and things. While upcycling and downcycling are both examples of recycling, there are distinctions between the various ways we can reuse waste.
Upcycling adds value to the waste materials and takes less energy to process. One example of upcycling: Southwest Airlines replaced the leather seat covers on their fleet of planes to reduce fuel costs. They worked with Looptworks, a company that specializes in upcycling to deconstruct the seats and refashion them into a collection of bags and accessories.
Down cycling takes more energy to process and results in something with lesser value than the original object. If you were to take denim jeans and shred them, the materials could also be utilized as insulation. In this case, the denim has less value but can be reused before ending up as land fill.
Essentially, Upcycling increases the value of the product you have recycled and down cycling decreases the value but still will be able to be reused and not just go straight to landfill.
Closed-Loop Recycling Systems
The desired effect of recycling is to “close the loop” on the manufacturing system. For Example, imagine a company that sells bottles water owned their own bottles forever and constantly was able to reuse and upcycle them. Here is another example from ‘Looptworks’ website
- Company makes a backpack.
- A person uses the backpack until it wears out.
- The person returns it to the company.
- The company down cycles it into yarn.
- Yarn into the fabric.
- Fabric into a backpack.
After scouring the internet, I found that as of writing this there are currently very few companies with Closed-Loop recycling systems. One I found was Dell. Dell focuses on designing their products to minimize the use of glues to reduce loss and create less degradation of their materials during the recycling process. Read more about Dell’s sustainable products and how they do that Here.
Find out how you can recycle and help the planet Here.