Upcycling ( English up "upwards" and recycling "reuse") involves converting waste products or (seemingly) useless materials into new products. The recycling or reuse of existing material reduces the use of new raw materials.

The term was first mentioned in 1994 in an article in the British magazine Salvo , in which the engineer Reiner Pilz from Burgdorfer Pilz GmbH is quoted with his criticism of the waste directive and the practice of building material recycling:

'Recycling', he said, 'I call it down-cycling. They smash bricks, they smash everything. What we need is up-cycling where old products are given more value, not less.'

"'Recycling,' he said, 'I call it down-cycling. They break building blocks, they break everything. What we need is up-cycling, where old products are given more value, not less.'"

For the field of art and design, the Upcycling Art Prize was awarded for the first time in 2021 to recognize a creative, circular and thus resource-saving use of used materials declared to be waste and their artistic upgrading.

A jury anonymously selected seven nominees from a total of 1,213 submissions. The three first-place winners were chosen based on the works of these nominees: Ramona Seyfahrt was awarded first prize for her ephemeral carpet installation made from advertising flyers. The jury chose Kerstin Bruchhäuser's textile art in the style of Korean bojagis for second place. Third place went to Willi Reiche for his kinetic art called "Every brass you take" in reference to the title "Every Berath you take" by The Police and six discarded brass instruments.


Due to the depletion of natural resources and social change, upcycling is becoming increasingly important, and cost savings and new marketing opportunities are further advantages. [ The German Federal Environment Agency classified upcycling in the sense of reusing materials as a type of innovation in 2016:

“In the case of ‘reuse’ – for example in the context of upcycling, the use of production residues for art projects or the collection of fallen fruit – products that have been withdrawn from consumption are returned to the market and thus regain their value.”

In “poorer” societies, upcycling is used more frequently than average: in many developing countries, for example, weaving techniques are widespread that allow new products to be made from old rubber and plastic products; for example, old car tires are used to make soles for flip flops.

But upcycling is also on the rise in "affluent" or "throw-away societies": some companies are trying to replace conventional materials by creatively repurposing unconventional resources. For example, sunglasses are made from old books and torn jeans, or cups are made from coffee grounds. Aesthetic aspects are also becoming more important; some people use old fruit crates, pallets, wine bottles or pipes to create new products for indoor and outdoor furnishings. The increasing popularity in the fashion sector is also due primarily to the individuality of the products created through upcycling.

Source: Wikipedia

For example, nylon tights become hair ties, Tetra Paks become lanterns, empty screw-top jars become flower vases, etc.

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