25 Jun 2022


Everyone produces waste in their daily life, but a lot of that waste can be somehow recycled or repurposed in some way. It is important to minimize the amount of trash thrown out as far as possible, so moving towards recycling and upcycling of unwanted or damaged goods is an increasingly popular approach among most people.

If you have got a pile of old furniture or other usable waste items and you do not know what to do with them, you might be wondering what the difference is between upcycling and recycling. What is the deal with each of these options? Is one of them better than the other? Which one should you use to deal with your waste items? Let us find out more about the basics of upcycling and recycling.

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What Is Recycling?

You are probably familiar with the regular habit of putting out your recyclables on the curb, but you may well not have thought much about what that actually means and what happens to your recyclables once the trash collectors have taken them away. What actually is recycling, though? And is it actually all that good? What happens to your recyclables? Is there something better you could do with them?

At a basic level, recycling is the process of turning old, discarded objects into materials that can then be used as the raw building blocks used to make new products. Recycling means that there are more materials available for products without needing to obtain new ones. Reducing the requirement for new materials helps to save energy and finite resources, such as water and oil, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Sounds great, right? But unfortunately, it is not actually as simple and unambiguous as that. Every step in the manufacturing process has a bit of loss involved, whether from burning, trimming, or something else. That means that when you recycle a material, it is going to be imperfect. There are going to be emissions, wastes, and flaws in the process.

Because of that loss, you should try to reuse things rather than recycle them. Sometimes, though, you can’t reuse an item you might want to do something with. If that is the case, recycling may well be a better bet than upcycling it.

What Is Upcycling?

Both upcycling and recycling repurpose old, discarded materials and give them a new lease of life, either directly or indirectly. Recycling breaks down old materials into basic raw materials that can be used to build new things, but upcycling takes those old, discarded materials and uses them directly to create something new and better, with more uses and even a higher value. This does not involve any of the loss or emissions involved with recycling, and you can do it in the comfort of your own home without having to wait for a curb side uplift or anything like that.

One of the most popular types of upcycling is taking old, unwanted, or broken furniture and repurposing it into something useful rather than buying an entirely new piece of furniture. For example, turning old dressers into vintage-style bookcases is an enduringly popular approach and one that can easily be done with no specialist knowledge and very few tools. 

The only limit to what you can do with upcycling is your imagination. Pretty much anything can be turned into something else with a little creativity and some time. From abandoned furniture to wooden pallets, all sorts of things can be upcycled in fresh and exciting ways.

Upcycling has many valuable benefits. On a small scale, it can save you a large amount of money that you would otherwise be spending on new furniture and decorations. The large-scale environmental benefits are more important, however; reducing the number of materials that end up in landfills and saving more resources than recycling could ever hope to.

Getting Started with Upcycling

It is easy to get started with upcycling. All you need is a bit of creativity and imagination. Because you can upcycle anything you want, your best starting point is usually going to be finding something that looks like it might be useful. If you are going to throw out something that looks relatively large and practical, think before you toss it out. Might it be useful for something? Can you imagine a new form for it? If so, set it aside, and start a new project around it.

The most important thing to remember here is that quality is more important than aesthetics. You can repaint, resurface, and reimagine things with ease as part of an upcycling project, as long as the actual structure is solid. If it looks nice, but it is falling apart, it is no use for upcycling! What you are looking for are high-quality pieces that you can revitalize, not nice-looking tat.


Recycling is a huge step up from sending waste to landfills, but in almost every situation, upcycling is a better option. Upcycling can save money, save resources, and help the environment, all at the cost of a bit of work and some imagination. Sometimes you will not be able to upcycle things, though, and that is ok. Some things are too battered, too fragile, or otherwise just not worth doing anything with. When those situations arise, there is nothing wrong at all with recycling them. Upcycling is great, but recycling is still worth doing: it may not be perfect, but recycling is absolutely better than nothing.