Recycling a material normally means reducing it to its raw material and then making a new item from it. For example glass bottles are melted down and then used to make new glass bottles. This process uses a lot of energy. The value of the recycled material is “neutral”, after it is used it is thrown away, melted down and another bottle is made, which has the same value/quality of the bottle that was discarded.
Upcycling is similar to recycling, but literally, better.
An old item or “waste” material is reused, normally with minimal processing, this reduces the amount of energy wasted in melting it down to its raw material. More importantly, the value of the material has increased – a waste material with little or no value has become something far more useful or attractive and is now worth more or is better quality.
Upcycling pushes the designer to be creative in the way an object is approached - how can it be reused to save it from the bin? What other purposes might it have in the building industry, can it be more useful if it is collected in mass? How can a rough, unloved, old material be repaired?
Upcycling takes a “worthless” material and transforms it into something more valuable, useful… beautiful.
The appeal of upcycling is that it is normally free, or has little cost. It has a positive impact on the environment (i.e. less energy being wasted processing recycled materials, less materials going to landfill, etc.) and it can even directly improve the local environment. For example, rubbish that is discarded on a housing estate can be saved before it goes to landfill. Fly tipped pallets or tyres can be reused, oil drums can be re-appropriated, even scrap metal can be upcycled instead of being cashed in at the local scrap merchant’s yard.
Upcycling materials discarded in and around the home can help to keep the streets clean and tidy and has a beautiful architectural philosophy behind it – it is the same as local vernacular Architecture from centuries ago: using local materials such as flint, mud and straw, stone or slate - to build homes with and create beautiful spaces to live in.
“flexible living spaces are what I create”
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