The differences of Recycle, Downcycle and Upcycle 

July 17, 2023

Many people are familiar with the term “Recycle”, either from each type of waste separation bin that includes a recyclable bin, or from products that are described as made from recycled materials. You often see and hear the term recycle through your eyes and ears every day, but do you really understand the recycling process correctly?

In addition to recycling, there are also “Upcycle” and “Downcycle” related to waste and waste management.

Aluminium Loop would like to invite everyone to understand so that they can handle used materials and packaging correctly and know their value.

First, let’s delve into the recycling.

Recycle is the process of using used materials to be restored as the original raw material for further use. The quality of the raw materials remains the same.

Not all materials are 100% recyclable, and only a few materials can do it: aluminum, glass, metal, etc.

Recycling of such materials A simple example is the recycling of aluminum cans where used cans are melted. Forming into bars and rolling them into sheets before producing new cans. The quality of the material remains the same.

In addition, the recycling of certain materials depends on the quality of the material, such as recycling paper to make it paper for reuse. Paper recycling can be repeated over time, but the quality of fibers will also keep decreasing. However, the decline in quality is not wasted, but it can still be recycled into inferior quality paper such as sugar box paper or cardboard paper.

Therefore, recycling reduces the use of new resources through the continuous reuse of existing resources.

Upcycle and add value to materials before they become waste.

Not all materials can be used once and then become waste, or they have to go through a recycling process alone. Many materials can add value through the development of quality new products, known as “Upcycles”.

Upcycle is based on the concept of Green Desige (Eco-Design) through the best use of natural resources.

Upcycle is not about reproducing items from new materials, but about extending the life of materials that have already been used so that they do not end up in a pile of waste faster. This creates a new product with a different purpose of use, but still retains the original material designed to be used efficiently.

The upcycle process varies in difficulty depending on the material itself and the product to be remade.

An example of a simple upcycle would be using a used can as a plant pot, which might be more beautiful, or a bag from clothes that is no longer used, there will be an additional sewing process. While the process of upcycling materials into some new products requires a lot of creativity and skill, such as models from aluminum cans, watches from bicycle parts, etc.

However, once the upcycled products have reached the end of their use, most of them can still be recycled, such as upcycled products made from aluminum materials that can be recycled 100%, etc.

Renewal – downcycle to materials whenwhen the quality is compromised

Downcycle is one of the ways to manage items that are no longer in use, but rather extend their life so that they don’t turn into waste faster.

Downcycles may look like upcycles in that they create something new from the original product’s material, but the difference is that the quality of the new product decreases and decreases over time after several downcycles, eventually becoming unusable and ending up in a pile of waste.

The material that is clearly classified as downcyclable is “plastic” which we often understand to be recyclable, which is practically recyclable but very little. In addition, the process of recycling plastics is also energy-intensive and emissions-emissions. Plastics are then downcycled to produce new products such as bags and shoes from plastic bottles.

From the example of bags and shoes made from plastic bottles, many people would think that it adds value to the material because it is many times more expensive from plastic bottles that are packaging, so it must be an upcycle.

The definition of the cycle of waste or used materials depends on the perspective of the product itself. In terms of value, it may be an upcycle, but in terms of material quality, it is a downcycle.

However, even if the downcycle product ends up in the garbage heap, it is considered one of the ways to reduce waste and extend the shelf life of the material for as long as possible.

Waste and waste management has no requirements on what method to use. At the same time, the definition used to refer to the cycle of a particular material has no fixed date on what it must be called, but rather depends on the perspective and purpose of the raw material and its application.

So that’s it. Before we choose to use a particular product. We should think at the source whether the material we choose can be “recycled” or whether it can continue to be “upcycled” or “downcycled”, and if it can be “Closed Loop Recycling” or the endless recycling of resources, it will be an even more attractive option.

But at the end of the day, It is important to think before you use, reduce waste, value raw materials, and realize limited resources, so we should focus on making the most of resources through environmentally friendly processes, as well as focusing on Closed Loop Recycling.

After reading this article, Aluminium Loop invites everyone to consider every piece of waste before throwing it away, whether you are using it worthwhile and how it can continue to provide value.