Upcycled, Recycled & Downcycled Defined

cream leather wristlet bag on mannequin hand against garden backgroundThis is perhaps my most common FAQ: What’s the difference between upcycling, recycling and downcycling? In a nutshell:

RECYCLING turns something into another product of equal value. Glass is a great example of this because it doesn’t degrade when it’s processed, it can be recycled endlessly into new glass.

DOWNCYCLING turns something into a product of lesser value. Paper is a good example here: Because it degrades with each process, the new paper that is becomes is typically thinner and weaker. The most recycled paper becomes… toilet paper.

UPCYCLING takes something of lesser value and turns it into something that has a higher value. A great example of this is upcycled fashion, in which a designer takes something like leather scraps that were trashed from another company’s project and turns them into–oh, say a wristlet purse like the Bird in Hand bag I just designed, which is available on Etsy! What do you think?!?!



  1. Great definitions! A lot of people think those terms are 100% interchangeable. I upcycle, and post on my blog: http://saintsalvage.blogspot.com.


  1. […] markets are depressed, virgin plastic is far cheaper to buy than recycled. In addition, many plastic products degrade each time they’re processed (unlike metal or glass, which can be perpetually recycled) making them progressively less […]

  2. […] work great. Add shredded newspaper comics (use a paper shredder or cut with scissors) for a great upcycled […]

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