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What are upcycling and downcycling?

Several brands in Weecos utilize the methods of upcycling and downcycling in their products. But what do they mean?
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You’ve probably heard the terms recycling, upcycling and downcycling but never really understood the difference in them? As Weecos also has a quite wide range of products using these methods in their production, a simple vocabulary of these essential words is needed.

Circular economy is an umbrella term for these terms. The term refers to a closed system and aims to keep a product or the materials in use as long as possible. As something new must not be produced or bought, the use of energy and the amount of waste, for instance, decreases. It is essential that products and garments are designed so that their recyclability and biodegradation are taken into account. Circular economy also relates closely to services. Instead of owning, we can share, rent and recycle, for example, bikes, clothes and tools. The opposite of circular economy is linear economy.

MEM utilizes leftover jeans, Salmiak Studio turns old leather jackets into bags and Globe Hope makes products, for instance, from seat belts and army surplus materials.

RECYCLING

Recycling means the process of changing items seen as waste into new products. This way, not only the waste of potentially useful materials is prevented, but also the consumption of fresh raw materials is reduced. For example, bottles, plastic and polyester can be recycled and used again in new ways.

Recycling can be separated into upcycling and downcycling.

 

UPCYCLING

Upcycling means that materials are converted into something of equal or greater value. In upcycling low-value materials, such as fabric leftovers or cutting waste, are transformed into high-value products. Through design, the material is given a new quality or value, and the consumption of not only new raw materials but also energy usage and pollutions are reduced.

 

DOWNCYCLING

By contrast, downcycling means converting valuable products into low-value raw materials or something of lesser value. In other words, a useful recycled material is transformed into another product of lower quality and functionality than the original material. A typical example of this is plastics, which are often downcycled and then reused as lesser-quality plastic. Converting fabrics into yarns is also considered downcycling as the yarn is of lesser value than the original piece of cloth it came from.

Go as U.R., for instance, makes new clothes from nailon yarn, which is originally from recovered sea fishing nets.

Both up- and downcycling help to keep materials in use, reduce consumption of raw materials, and avoid the energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and water pollution of primary production and resource extraction.

There’s nothing new in recycling and it was only couple of decades ago, that it was common also in the West to use all the materials available since raw and new materials were expensive and nothing was wasted. However, fast fashion, which landed in the late ’90s, changed everything. Fortunately, attitudes and awareness are changing, and there are many brands in Weecos who also utilize already existing materials.