Upcycling & Downcycling: Definitions, Materials, Examples & Ideas, & More

In the guide below, we discuss upcycling and downcycling.

Specifically, we provide definitions, and also outline materials, and as well as examples and ideas for both.


What Is Upcycling? (A Definition)

Upcycling involves collecting and converting waste and materials into upcycled material of a higher quality, functionality, or value (compared to the original material)

Value might take a number of forms, such as financial, environmental, and artistic


What Is Downcycling? (A Definition)

Downcycling is the opposite of upcycling.

It involves collecting and converting waste and materials into downcycled material of lower quality, functionality, or value (compared to the original material)

Some forms of open loop recycling may lead to downcycling


Materials That Can Be Upcycled Or Downcycled

Almost any material can be upcycled or downcycled in some way. Examples might include:

– Plastic

– Timber and wood

 – Metals

– Textiles

– Common everyday items, waste and materials

– Different types of salvaged waste and litter

– Food scraps and waste, and organic waste

– By-products and waste products from different processes


Examples Of Upcycling (& Ideas)

There’s really thousands of ways different items and materials can be upcycled.

Some examples of upcycling might include, but aren’t limited to:

– Using common everyday items and materials, and refashioning them into a secondary use

An example might be using an empty (and cleaned) coffee container as a storage container for other household amenities and items


– Using pre-consumer waste, and post consumer (pre-worn and pre-used) textiles and clothing as base material for new textiles and clothing


– Salvaging timber from demolished buildings, or infrastructure projects, and using it for a range of uses such as furniture, household items, and more


– Using a range of materials and items in art, such as salvaged fabric, scrap metal, broken glass, and so on.

There’s a wide range of materials and items that can be used in art


– Some types of food waste and scraps might be upcycled for various uses

One use might be to feed it to livestock and animals in some instances

Another use might be to use it as bioenergy or biofuel (by generating methane), which can be used for electricity or heat

Another more simple use it to compost the food, which can result in a soil amendment mix being produced


– Using plastic waste and plastic pollution in the environment for various applications

wikipedia.org lists various technologies and processes that might be able to help upcycle plastic waste and plastic pollution in various ways


– Using biomass such as agricultural waste to make different chemicals and commodities


-Some hides left over from some types of animal agriculture can be upcycled into area rugs and other products


– Using spent grain from some brewing processes as a substrate in some biogas processes


– Instruments made from waste material

‘The Recycled Orchestra’ from Paraguay has instruments made from waste found in landfill


– In developing regions of the world, people use a range of materials and products that can’t be used for their primary use anymore, and upcycle them into other uses.

Packaging, textiles, and other materials and waste are some examples 


Examples Of Downcycling (& Ideas)

Some examples of downcycling might include, but aren’t limited to:

– Melting wrought aluminum alloys to produce lower grade casting alloys


– Steel scrap from vehicles that have reached the end of their lifespan being too contaminated to be used again as automotive steel, so are used for construction applications instead


– Plastic bottles can be downcycled into carpeting or fleece fibres


– Carpeting materials and fleece can be downcycled into plastic lumber products


– In some forms of recycling, when plastics are mixed with other plastics to form hybrid plastics, they are actually downcycled because the end plastic is actually of a lower quality


– In some forms of recycling of aluminum soda cans, the two kinds of aluminum that make up the walls and also the top of the can, are melted together and form a weaker, less useful downcycled aluminum metal 


Other Guides On Upcycling & Downcycling 

Potential Pros & Cons Of Upcycling & Downcycling

Comparison Of Recycling, Upcycling & Downcycling




1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Downcycling

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upcycling


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