What is Upcycling?

21/02/2014 While the spirit of upcycling is based on old-fashioned values, the term and modern concept came from Reiner Pilz in an article by Thornton Kay of Salvo in 1994.  "Recycling," he said, "I call it downcycling. They smash bricks, they smash everything. What we need is upcycling- where old products are given more value, not less." 

The upcycling concept was also incorporated in a German book of the same name written by Gunter Pauli in 1997, and the 2002 book 'Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things' by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.  Upcycling is the opposite of downcycling, which is the other half of the recycling process.  While downcycling involves converting materials and products into new materials of lesser quality, upcycling is the creative process of making more from less.

The upcycling revival started gaining momentum about five years ago, and keeps growing thanks to online interest and easier access to re-used materials.  According to figures from e-commerce website Etsy, products tagged with the word "upcycled" increased from about 7,900 at the start of 2010 to almost 30,000 a year later.  In 2013 that number grew to 263,685, an increase of 879 percent in a period less than three years.

According to Better Homes and Gardens decorator Tara Dennis, "These days, everyone is so conscious of both budget and sustainability... Up-cycling is a fantastic way to save money on regular store-bought items, and to find a new use for something that has been pre-loved, or that you are reluctant to throw away."  In an industry surrounded by consumerism and new product development, interior design is slowly but surely recognising both the creative and environmental benefits of upcycling.

For forty years now, avoiding new products where possible has been one of the core philosophies behind Australia's largest creative re-use centre, Reverse Garbage.  According to marketing manager Mark Bond, "We've got so many raw materials and resources floating around that we don't need to keep buying new things. We should be using what we have to the best of our ability with just some creativity and imagination."

Whether you want to save money, help save the planet, or show off your individuality, there are lots of reasons to join the upcycling revival.  With popular websites such as Etsy and Pinterest a great way to get inspired, its never been easier to find projects and start transforming your unwanted products into new and useful items.