UPCYCLING, DOWNCYCLING AND PRECYCLING - WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?

Our planet cannot support the business as usual any longer. The linear ‘take-make-waste’ business model uses scarce resources to make products that are used once and then wasted. A new, purpose-driven perspective on waste and how we consume more sustainably is needed. 

Circular economy gives us the keys for living more sustainable, cleaner and safer life. Circularity is taking space as a business model for the future, securing sufficiency of natural resources by extending the life cycle of valuable materials and preventing waste to be created at source. Waste is scaled up, meaning it is transformed into resource and useful materials are prevented from ending up to the landfill. 

Circular business model is designing, making, using and reusing things within planetary boundaries. Focusing on solutions rather than problems has resulted in different ways to scale up waste into valuable resources. Upcycling, downcycling and precycling are all variations of recycling which aims to improve efficiency of resource use and minimize landfill waste by ‘closing the loop’.

 

Upcycling

Upcycling is repurposing new products from existing products and materials. As part of sustainable fashion, upcycling is anticipating and imagining new purposes for existing products and available excess materials from manufacturing industries. Someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure. Upcycling process uses either pre-consumer waste, post-consumer waste, or both. Leftover materials from manufacturing or unwanted garments that are taken out from the waste-cycle can be upcycled to new, creative, better quality products than their original purpose.

Downcycling

Downcycling refers to a process where, for example, discarded textiles are used as a base to make new garments. Textile or discarded clothing is shredded into yarn and then used to create new textiles consisting of only recycled material or a mix of virgin and recycled yarn. Downcycling inevitably leads to loss of quality due to the materials’ separation process. With product optimal design and how easy it is to separate materials from each other, makes the downcycling process more resource and energy efficient. However, any item that is no longer wanted or utilized in its original purpose can be given another life by downcycling it and using it as a component in new, innovative and functional products. 

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Precycling

Precycling is preventing waste to be generated already at source. Basically, precycling stops the need for recycling because all products that are eventually purchased have a clear purpose. Buying less and for a real need only, results in sustainable and more conscious consumption patterns. Each refused or avoided single-use product, such as a plastic bag or a disposable coffee cup, takes part to the precycling action. Production of reusable, long-lasting and high quality products contribute actively to sustainable consumption that aims at lowering harmful environmental impacts. This is precycling – inviting consumers to use what they already have for longer.

What is similar with these variations of recycling is that they all aim at refusing, reducing, reusing or repurposing waste by creating value from trash. Waste needs to be properly sorted before upcycling or downcycling processes. Precycling, on the other hand, is preventing waste to be generated already before the purchase situation. Thinking holistically about the impacts of every item produced and consumed, their purpose in a long-term, their design and end of life are extremely important steps in reducing waste. 

By respecting what we already have is a huge opportunity and it contributes efficiently to taking better care of our planet. The production and consumption habits need to become circular making sure that our scarce resources are sustainably used and valuable materials returned back to the multi-cycle model of circular economy. No waste is left behind.


This blog post was contributed by Tuuli-Anna. Tuuli-Anna has her own blog 4circularity which she started in August 2019. 4circularity is about solutions the circular economy can provide, plastic problem, climate change mitigation and sustainable business management.

Follow Tuuli-Anna on Instagram: @tuuli_annat