Upcycling 101: Understanding Recycle, Upcycle and Repurpose in Under 3 Minutes

Recycle, upcycle and repurpose… You might think that these words are interchangeable. In fact, many of us do use them interchangeably. I am going to give my take on defining these key words and help you understand more in order to clear up any misconceptions 🙂


The good old 3R Principles: Reduce, Resuse and Recycle are pretty much self-explanatory. Reduce means minimising the use of an item/something; reuse means using the same things over and over until they’re torn apart (ideally); recycle means breaking down an item into raw materials and then create a new product out of it.

As with upcycling and downcycling, check out my last blog post here for a more detailed explanation. To clarify a bit upon reader’s question on downcycling, it is quite safe to say that not all materials being recycled can be reproduced into objects of the same value. For example, plastic containers are often converted into composite lumber, rather than plastic containers. Most importantly, composite lumber is irreversible, it cannot be made into something else – this would be downcycling. Often, this is because plastic containers are a combination of raw materials that requires a lot of labor force to separate and thus recycle. Thus, it is better off the upcycle the plastic containers into something more useful.

(Image from Flickr)
Composite lumber is a wood-plastic mixture material that is supposed to have a longer life than wood lumber, because of its stain, scratch and mold resistant properties. However, they are not biodegradable in landfills.

Image from Flickr)
Playgrounds are often mulched with recycled tires to act as a shock-absorbent cushion for kids.

The very controversial one would be the interpretation of repurposing. Often repurposing projects are the more common ones and being mistaken as upcycling. Simply put, repurposing refers to using item that is still useful and well-functioning and use it for something else.

Image from Flickr)

Another misconception is that upcycling means beautifying objects, for example, taking a piece of old furniture that you picked up in the roadside and redesigning it.

Image from Flickr)

In my opinion, these repurposing or beautifying projects are often dubbed as “upcycling” projects and drawing people into the wrong focus. Repurposing or beautifying items does not necessarily reduce the amount of waste into the landfill, and it doesn’t produce or add value to the item that was deemed to be thrown away. In other words, it doesn’t turn trash into treasures. Don’t get me wrong, I think they are still awesome! In fact, people make less purchase for a brand new item, and you can utilise idle resources at home (that you never use and they work just as fine)to make things, as a creative outlet.

Do you define these terms the same way as I do? Leave a comment down below of what you would explain differently and why! 🙂 Until next time…

CL xx

P.S. Would you like to see another post on clearing misconception or on some awesome upcycled art pieces that I have seen earlier? 😉

Excerpt from Little bits of Granola



  1. Thanks for your detailed information regarding the different definitions with great examples!

    Can your later blog posts show us some uncycled art pieces please?


    • Thank you Keith! Glad that you enjoyed reading my post 🙂 Definitely stay tuned for the next one where I am sharing some upcycled pieces I have seen in the past. Look forward to hearing from your comment!



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