What is the Difference Between Upcycling and Recycling?

As awareness of the effects of climate change increases, businesses of all sizes and sectors across the UK are taking steps to boost the sustainability of their practices.

One of the best places to start to improve your environmental impact is to assess your operation and how your waste is managed.

The trick to minimising waste is to A) responsibly source materials, and B) reuse materials.

The two key methods for reusing materials are upcycling and recycling.

While many of us are familiar with recycling because it is how we process our household waste, the same cannot be said for upcycling.

In this blog, we answer the question: what is upcycling and how does it differ from recycling? We will also take a look at the benefits of both and the various ways businesses can practice upcycling.

What is Upcycling?

The process of upcycling involves taking an object or material that is no longer in use to repurpose or reuse it by turning it into something new.

Businesses often have a multitude of items or materials that can be upcycled. Some common items include:

Packaging Materials

Boxes, cardboard, and paper packaging can be found in abundance in offices or warehouses. They can be upcycled to be turned into storage containers or reused as packaging materials.


Businesses often discard furniture after offices are redesigned or refitted. This includes old desks, chairs, or tables. In most cases, these discarded objects would end up in a pile in a landfill. However, a much greener alternative would be to refurbish, paint or reupholster, the furniture to fit a new aesthetic or function.

Whether these upcycled pieces are used again within the office space, or elsewhere like a local school or community centre, upcycling furniture is far better for the environment.


Another material can that be upcycled is fabric. From curtains to uniforms, the unused fabric can be transformed into an endless number of items, such as tote or drawstring bags, blankets for a local animal rescue centre, or cushion covers and coasters.

Electronic Components

For most businesses, regularly updating technology is a necessity, which is why electrical components are often discarded. However, while old computers, monitors or telephones are outdated, sometimes the parts inside can be salvaged for use in other types of technology.

Plastic Containers

While plastics contribute largely to how much waste a business can generate, there is no reason why this cannot be turned around through upcycling. Plastic bottles and containers can either be reused for storage purposes or turned into other items such as planters or organisers.

Wooden Pallets

Wooden pallets are a staple for warehouse organisation and storage but once they are no longer needed, can they be upcycled? Wooden pallets are very versatile, meaning they can turned into furniture, storage units, planters, or even art installations.

Glass Bottles

Glass is one of the most popular materials for upcycling. Glass bottles in particular can be repurposed for multiple uses including vases, lamps, candle holders and more.

Businesses can encourage upcycling by setting up collection points for these items or collaborating with local organisations to find innovative ways to reuse them.

Upcycling VS Recycling

In comparison to upcycling, recycling involves breaking down materials to manufacture new products, a process that is important for reducing waste in landfills. For example, when plastic bottles are recycled, they can be broken down into flakes that are melted and spun into a thread. This thread can then be used to make clothing.

While recycling plays a crucial role in waste management, upcycling takes it a step further by preventing materials from reaching the recycling stage in the first place, maintaining, and even enhancing the quality of the original materials that would have otherwise been considered as waste.

How Can Upcycling Help the Environment?

There are multiple environmental benefits of upcycling. First and foremost, it reduces the volume of waste destined for landfills or recycling centres.

Another significant benefit is that by repurposing items, the need for raw materials decreases, subsequently reducing the energy and resources that are required for manufacturing new products. This reduction in energy consumption leads to a smaller carbon footprint, which contributes positively to combating climate change.

Additionally, upcycling promotes a circular system where waste is minimised by reusing resources, challenging the conventional “use and dispose” mindset.

Businesses that adopt upcycling practices contribute to this more sustainable system by extending the lifespan of materials and products.

Which of these approaches to waste management is better?

The best way to view recycling and upcycling is to understand the value of utilising both methods at the same time. While they differ in their approaches, they complement each other and help enormously in improving sustainable practices.

Businesses in particular can gain a lot from incorporating both upcycling and recycling into their operations.

Implementing recycling practices for materials like paper, glass, and metals, while simultaneously exploring upcycling opportunities can significantly reduce waste output.

Efficient Waste Management Solutions from SL Recycling

As one of the largest independent recycling facilities in South Wales, SL Recycling are well equipped to offer a wide range of specialist metal and waste management services.

We remain dedicated towards our goal of zero-waste-to-landfill, exploring techniques to maximise recycling solutions.

To find out more about our services, or if you would like to partner with SL Recycling for flexible, reliable, and cost-effective waste management services, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team today.

Read next
How can businesses improve their waste management?
Read More
The Beginner’s Guide to Separated Waste Collections for Workplaces – Wales Workplace Recycling 2024
Read More

Working with respected organisations: