Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.
The first recorded use of the term upcycling was by Reiner Pilz of Pilz GmbH in an article by Thornton Kay of Salvo in 1994.
We talked about the impending EU Demolition Waste Streams directive. "Recycling," he said, "I call it downcycling. They smash bricks, they smash everything. What we need is upcycling- where old products are given more value, not less." He despairs of the German situation and recalls the supply of a large quantity of reclaimed woodblock from an English supplier for a contract in Nuremberg while just down the road a load of similar blocks was scrapped. In the road outside his premises, was the result of the Germans' demolition waste recycling. It was a pinky looking aggregate with pieces of handmade brick, old tiles and discernible parts of useful old items mixed with crushed concrete. Is this the future for Europe?
The upcycling concept was the title of the German book written by Gunter Pauli in 1997, the free translation of Upsizing (the opposite of Downsizing) book first published in 1996. The German edition was adapted to the German language and culture by Johannes F. Hartkemeyer, then Director of the Volkshochschule in Osnabruck. The concept was later incorporated by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. They state that the goal of upcycling is to prevent wasting potentially useful materials by making use of existing ones. This reduces the consumption of new raw materials when creating new products. Reducing the use of new raw materials can result in a reduction of energy usage, air pollution, water pollution and even greenhouse gas emissions.
Upcycling is the opposite of downcycling, which is the other half of the recycling process. Downcycling involves converting materials and products into new materials of lesser quality. Most recycling involves converting or extracting useful materials from a product and creating a different product or material.
For example, during the recycling process of plastics other than those used to create bottles, many different types of plastics are mixed, resulting in a hybrid. This hybrid is used in the manufacturing of plastic lumber applications. However, unlike the engineered polymer ABS which hold properties of several plastics well, recycled plastics suffer phase-separation that causes structural weakness in the final product.
In developing countries, where new raw materials are often expensive, upcycling is commonly practiced, largely due to impoverished conditions.
Upcycling has seen an increase in use due to its current marketability and the lowered cost of reused materials. Inhabitat, a blog devoted to sustainability and design, holds an annual upcycling design competition with entries coming from around the globe.
Upcycling has shown significant growth across the United States. For example, the number of products on Etsy tagged with the word "upcycled" increased from about 7,900 in January 2010 to nearly 30,000 a year later—an increase of 275%. As of April 2013[update], that number stood at 263,685, an additional increase of 879%.
See also 
- Kay, Thornton (11 October 1994), "Salvo in Germany - Reiner Pilz", SalvoNEWS (99): 14
- "Wastes - Resource Conservation - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle", Environmental Protection Agency, retrieved 2009-12-03
- Goldsmith, Belinda (2009-09-30). "Trash or treasure? Upcycling becomes growing green trend". Reuters. Retrieved 2009-12-02
- "Inhabitat's Spring Greening Competition", Inhabitat. Retrieved 2010-06-02
- "Upcycling Becomes a Treasure Trove for Green Business Ideas". Entrepreneur Magazine. March 22, 2011. Retrieved 2013-05-14.