Upcycling 101: The Basics

Updated: May 7

We all have heard of recycling. We all have recycled, most of us on a regular basis.

Not many of us, though, have heard of upcycling.

What is upcycling, and what is the difference between recycling and upcycling?

According to the Sustainability Dictionary,

recycle is the process of reclaiming materials from used products or materials from their manufacturing and using them in the manufacturing of new products.

In other words, the Rhäzünser PET bottle that you recycled just now will be destroyed so that the plastic can be remanufactured into a bottle of, let’s say, Ramseier Schorle.

In the same dictionary,

upcycle is “the process of converting an industrial nutrient (material) into something of similar or greater value, in its second life.”

So instead of throwing something away into the recycled bin, we celebrate it by “reincarnating” the object.

The difference?

Recycling requires destroying an old object to extract the source material to remanufacture a new item. Upcycling does not require destroying anything, but rather modifying the original object to fit the purpose of the new one.

You add value the original item, that's why it's called upcycle.

What’s more?

You can easily upcycle in the comfort of your home.

Example? This is how my mother-in-law upcycled old newspapers to decorate her home for Christmas, and it is lovely.

What is important for us all to be aware of is that upcycling is not simply a cute art project that we do in our leisure time.

It is a way of saving money and creating something useful and inexpensive or even free.

As a concrete example, when I first moved to my current apartment (and way before I first heard of the term “upcycling”), I had to spend some time doing research on the different bookshelves that would fit our lifestyle and taste, found one, ordered it online, scheduled a time block on my agenda so someone could deliver and assemble our fancy bookshelf.

As I recall, we paid roughly CHF 250 for the shelf, not to mention the time spent on researching, selecting, (debating), and waiting while someone else assembled our shelf.

Then last week, our friend moved into a new apartment and this is her bookshelf:

Guess how much that cost her?

A few minutes of posting on a local Flohmi Facebook group to ask for bricks, twenty Swiss francs as gratitude for the guy that brought the bricks to her, a phone call to her carpenter brother who brought her the wooden planks, and ten minutes to put everything together the way she wanted it.

The bookshelf is simple, practical, beautiful, fast to assemble, inexpensive, and allowed our friend to reach out to her community by looking for available resources out there instead of getting something brand new (and fancy).

With the same materials, she went on and did this:

We're a little bit jealous.

Upcycling is more present in our daily life and surroundings than you expect. If you pay attention, you will see it all around!

There are many more examples on this site that you can see: by looking at what Swiss upcyclers are producing, or by watching our tutorials in MyUpcycling section of this website.

We don’t expect that you understand the concept right away. Even we at are also learning.

And hopefully we’ve got you excited enough to join us in this learning journey. 😉

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