As the conversation for climate crisis lingers on, we can't help but think of ways in which the negative effects of over consumption could be controlled and / or reversed. The last few decades have witnessed the growth of consumption across different industries with consumers in developed & developing nations embracing the concept of "fast fashion" with enthusiasm. However, as more products are consumed, almost equal amounts are discarded.
Fact - As per the World Bank, we are currently generating 2.1 billion tonnes of solid waste annually and it is estimated that by 2050, the global consumption will rise to 3.40 billion tonnes.
This upward trend of waste generation is choking our landfills with the waste that we discard out of our daily lives - roughly 80% of which could have been re-used, upcycled or recycled.
The terms, upcycling & recycling are often substituted for each other in terms of their meaning. But these two processes are quite distinct.
We are all familiar with the concept of ‘recycling’ as it has been in the mainstream since 1970. There are recycling businesses and companies that have been established to manage and divert large scale waste production from landfills. ‘Upcycling’ is a form of recycling and although the term may seem new, what it stands for has been a part of our heritage for generations. The former generations have practised ‘upcycling’ all their lives and set an example about how to use our valuable resources efficiently. Eg: In olden times, people would use the jars or containers discarded by the shopkeepers, to store food items at home. Old ilkal sarees were stitched into bags, purses or frocks for kids.
In today’s world, ‘upcycling’ is need of the hour as the question of waste generation and management is daunting. Recently, the Cambridge dictionary has crowned the term ‘upcycling’ as the ‘Word of the year 2019’.
So how do we define these terms?
Upcycling is the process of creating high quality products out of discarded/ leftover/ broken material through creative techniques to be able to add value to the discarded product, extending its’ lifecycle.
On the other hand, Recycling is the process of breaking down a product into its’ raw material form and creating a new product out of it who’s quality, often times, is inferior to the quality of the original product.
Evidently both the processes contribute in lessening the waste generated and keeping it away from the landfills. But recycling as a process is energy intensive as it includes chemical process, machinery, labour etc whereas upcycling requires only creative ideas. We believe recycling should be practised only if the product is completely depleted and cannot be further upcycled.
Example - For instance, Glass is 100% recyclable, but it can be upcycled to create glass jars or bottles into planters, vintage style lanterns, fabric wrapped holders and many more. Broken glass can also be upcycled at first. Once the glass is consumed to the fullest even after upcycling, it could then be recycled and that is how a circular loop will be created.
Upcycling is the finest way to achieve sustainability and longevity. Whereas recycling could be practised only if the product is completely consumed and cannot be further upcycled.