Working with Waste Wednesday. Upcycling, downcycling


In our efforts to reduce our waste and keep things out of landfill, one of our options is ‘upcycling’. Upcycling means transforming something that is no longer needed or wanted and turning it into something better or that has better environmental value. ‘Upcycling’ is the opposite of ‘downcycling’, which is what many of us know as ‘recycling’(!)

If you are a creative type, then upcycling will probably come very naturally to you. A friend of mine has just managed to turn an old kitchen cupboard into a desk. It’s very impressive, not only as a finished product, but also for the idea in the first place. I, however am not so blessed with creativity, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find things to upcycle. The internet is full of great ideas. It doesn’t have to be a big furniture project; sometimes it can be a very simple idea such as how to make your own firelighters from toilet rolls.  What both big and small projects have in common though is they prevent things from going to waste or landfill. They extend the lifespan of items through finding a second use for them, so we don’t need to purchase new, which is better for the environment and also saves us money. I have to admit, in researching this blog, I’ve come across many great and beautiful ideas I feel hugely inspired to try out. Rather than buying so many Christmas gifts this year, there are lots of things that even I could make. Here are some of the best websites I found for ideas.


Recycling often leads to what is called ‘downcycling’. This is when the components or parts from an item are removed and made into something of lesser quality.

Whilst recycling is a great concept and we should all recycle as much as possible, we need also be aware that recycling is not the answer to our waste problem. It is not some kind of magic place that makes all our waste disappear. There are many restrictions. Firstly, in many cases not all the components of an item can be recycled. Secondly, items can only be recycled a certain number of times, after which, they are no longer of any use and need to be disposed of via landfill.

Whilst glass and aluminium can be recycled an infinite number of times, paper and plastic cannot. When paper is recycled, the fibres that hold the paper together break down which means paper can only be recycled between 4 and 6 times.

For plastic, which makes up the vast majority of our recycling, often this can only be recycled once into the same kind of item. After that it can sometimes be re-purposed into other products such as fabric and carpets. However, the problem with plastic is it doesn’t decompose well. Ultimately, plastic ends up in landfill or our oceans and takes between 400 and 1000 years to break down.

Sky News recently produced an amazing documentary on plastic pollution entitled  ‘A Plastic Tide. There’s also great information on how you can get involved and start making a difference. Click here for more info.

The bottom line is that we all need to actually REDUCE the amount of waste we produce. Upcycling our waste where possible can really help and recycling everything we can is extremely important. However, none of it actually ever disappears, so ultimately, we all need to cut down on our waste. For tips and support on how to do this, join in with #zerowasteweek and start making a difference.



One thought on “Working with Waste Wednesday. Upcycling, downcycling

  1. I appreciate you talking about recycling and the ‘downcycling’ side to it. I’ve never really looked into it in much depth, so it’s good to learn about it. Like you I’m not terribly creative when it comes to these sorts of projects, but (probably again, like you) I’m a whizz in the kitchen at turning all sorts of things into perfectly edible dishes. We all have our gifts, right? Thanks for sharing the links though; I’ll have a mooch through and see if there’s anything there I feel I can tackle.

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