Recycling, upcycling, repurposing. These words are used interchangeably and thrown around all the time when it comes to environmental sustainability. They are all known for turning old, broken or futile products into fresh new products that have a new life.

If they all mean the same thing then why do they have different names? The subtle differences between each will be (hopefully) quite apparent by the time you finish reading this article.

So, to get a gist of the differences, we shall begin with each terminology.


What is recycling?

[What is recycling?] The recycling process involves breaking (usually melting) the product down into its basic raw material (plastic, glass, metal etc.) and then formed into new products. The prefix re- in recycling means again. Hence, when you ‘recycle’ you are returning it back to the daily cycle of having a purpose in society instead of being in the dumpsters.

What are the benefits of recycling?

There are many benefits to recycling. They two biggest ones are environmental sustainability and the other one is economics. They include:

  • Reduce harmful greenhouse gases
  • Keeping the Earth beautiful
  • Conserve natural resources
  • More employment opportunities
  • Save money and energy

What items can be recycled?

For a complete guide on products that can be recycled in Australia, check out our yellow recycling bin guide for items that can and cannot be recycled.

recycled glass bottles


What is upcycling?

Simply put, upcycling is the process of enhancing a product. The functionality of the item is still the same, however, it looks and serves much better than previously. The ‘up’ in upcycling means that the product has moved up the chain into something that is better.

Who invented upcycling?

Upcycling became widely popular in the 1990’s when there was an increase in environmental concerns and awareness of global warming. It is difficult to say exactly who invented the idea of upcycling but a person by the name of Gary Chan is well known for upcycling waste to create bicycles in Hong Kong.

Why is upcycling good?

Upcycling is good because it is an energy efficient method of using waste and transforming them into new products without wasting as much energy that is required for recycling to reshape and remould the object into a new product. Upcycling can be accomplished through repair and restorations such as painting, new upholstery and add-ons.

young woman upcycling chair


What is repurposing?

The process of repurposing involves using a product to serve another purpose. For example, your old shoes will become worn over time and will no longer be able to serve its function any more. Instead of throwing them away where they will end up in a landfill, you can choose to use it as a pot for your plants.

upcycling benefits

Differences and similarities

What are the differences?

Repurposing is similar to upcycling, however, it is different because upcycling still operates as its original function, just simply altered to become better. Whereas repurposing changes its original objective to serve a different ‘purpose’ hence repurposing.

Both upcycling and repurposing is different to the normal recycling process because it does not undergo any chemical change, unlike recycling. Recycling melts the raw material and moulds them into new products.

In doing so, it loses some of its original quality during the melting process and does so each time it is recycled. That is why there is a limit to how many times a certain material can be recycled into a new product. For example, it is estimated that paper can be recycled up to 6 times and plastic is limited to 7-9 times.

Upcycling and repurposing do not lose any of its composition or quality of raw material for its next use.

Although there are small differences between each of these process, they all share a common goal of being environmentally-friendly. They avoid ending up in a landfill to rot and pollute the planet.

Girl recycling paper tube


In a sense, they are all ‘recycled’ as they are given a new life and opportunity for a new ‘cycle’ instead of ending up in the dump or landfill. It’s no wonder that these terms are so commonly interchanged.

If you are unable to recycle, upcycle or repurpose your old products but would like an eco-friendly approach to disposing of it, call Paul’s Rubbish Removal on 0407 125 125. We ensure that all of our rubbish is safely and environmentally-friendly disposed of. No matter what type of junk or garbage you need to be removed, we can tailor to your needs. Get the professionals to clear out your mess today!

    cleanup crew


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