The Difference Between Upcycling and Recycling 

Tea kettles that have been made into flower pots

You would be surprised how many ways you can use things that we think are no longer valuable.

3 Minute Read:

Right now, many of us are trying to do our part for the betterment of the world around us. While it can be difficult to know exactly what that means, some feasible practices that we can incorporate into our daily lives are as simple as recycling and upcycling our old and unused items.

What Is Recycling? 

Recycling is a sustainability practice that many people take part in every day. Recycling consists of a variety of processes used to break down manufactured products, salvage the useful materials, and dispose of what remains. 


Recyclable products tend to be made of plastic, glass, metals, wood, and paper. More often than not, the cost of using recycled materials is less than the price of making new products from raw materials. 


Because of the savings potential, more companies have begun to use recycled materials, and offer recycling programs to make the most out of their products even after the customer is done with them. 


Even though recycling is a trusted method for getting the most use out of old products, there is another way.

What Is Upcycling? 

Upcycling is similar to recycling in that the goal is to find a new purpose for the product, rather than send it straight to the landfill when you are done with it. 


However, upcycling differs from recycling since it utilizes the product in its current form instead of breaking it down for its raw material. In this case, the product is not destroyed—it just finds a new purpose. 


Upcycling is the creative process of transforming useless, broken, or otherwise unwanted products into new materials or products that are of better quality or value than the original product. 


What is considered “better quality” is mostly up to you. 


The quality or value of a product plummets once it leaves the shelf, especially for easily expendable products. So, your tea kettle may have been great, but once it no longer functions, it has little to no value. By turning your tea kettle into a flower pot, suddenly, the tea kettle has a new purpose, and therefore increased value. 

What Can I Upcycle? 

Part of the beauty of upcycling is that what you upcycle is entirely up to you. If you can find a safe, productive use for something, you can make that happen. 


This is an area where upcycling can differ from recycling. In recycling, certain materials can and cannot be recycled. If the product cannot be adequately broken down, there is nowhere else for it to end up besides the landfill. 


With upcycling, even if a product cannot be recycled—or there is no way for you to get the waste to a proper facility—you can still salvage that product and prevent harmful waste. 


Here is a shortlist of common household items that can be upcycled: 

  • Glass bottles 
  • Ladders 
  • Light bulbs 
  • Tea kettles
  • Mugs 
  • Old rocking / folding chairs
  • Books


If you have some things lying around that you would like to recycle or upcycle, first find out which option is best. If you cannot think of a realistic use for the product, you may want to contact your local recycling facility to find out how best to get rid of your products.

Want to Learn More? 

If you are interested in learning more about recycling or need a recycling service, please contact Cal Micro Recycling at 909-467-4800 or fill out this contact form.