What is the difference between recycling and upcycling?

When we look at the overall process of recycle and upcycle, they are very similar, but when looking into the deep details, the two processes are clearly different.

Recycling is to convert unused materials back into the cycle of use again by passing through various processes such as melting to become new raw materials for the production of the same product. New raw material might have inferior quality. Therefore, energy consumption will be higher than usual and air emission from processing might contaminated with chemical substance. Moreover, it requires quite a lot of costs with environmental management.

Recycled product: glass bottles turn to be new glass bottles

For examples, glass bottles are recycled from old bottles into new bottles that may have a different shape but still glass bottles as before or maybe recycled to produce new items. Or bringing used paper into recycled paper again by pulping process.

Recycled product: waste cardboards turn to be new cardboard boxes

Upcycling comes from the word Upgrade + Recycling which is the process of bringing waste or unused material by adding value and designing them as new items. The processing is based on environmental considerations. However, upcycling is considered to use fewer of chemicals that affect the environment. or if needed, use it as little as possible. The end result is the goods or products that are environmentally friendly.

Upcycling product: plastic bottles turn to be a T-shirt

Most of today’s fashion business has embraced upcycling innovation as both a manufacturing process and a point of sale using creativity and add innovation or ideas that no one has done before in order to make the unique product. To increase the value as high as the manufacturer wants, such as using old paper, plastic or canvas. to produce clothes, bags, jewelry, etc.

Upcycling product: the cement bag turns to be a shopping bag

It can be concluded that upcycling is able to reduce the necessity of recycling. It is quite a great alternative for our environment. When materials have no longer to serve any purpose, recycling is more environmentally friendly than sending them to landfills.


  1. https://thinktradethinkditp.com/what-is-upcycle/
  2. https://gccircularlivingshop.com/
  3. https://www.greennetworkthailand.com/