What is Upcycling: Frequently Asked Questions

What is Upcycling?

Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, represents a phenomenon by which used materials go through a process of getting a second life as they are turned into a new item. By taking different types of waste and mixing it to create a new product, you are adding more value to the original materials — which are usually non-recyclable — and extending its lifespan before they end up in the landfill.


The term upcycling became famous after William McDonough and Michael Braungart used it in their 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.


How does Upcycling work?

If you want to do it at home, then you just need to get creative. Remember: anything can be upcycled — a water bottle, and old sweater or even a wardrobe!


On a larger scale, things can be a little different. Here at Garbags, in order to produce our unique upcycled bags and accessories, we collects materials such as used publicity banners, inner tubes, tetrapaks and coffee packages from our network of local donators and environmentally conscious companies.

What can you Upcycle?

Pretty much anything can be upcycled. Cardboard, glass, plastic, metal and tin cans, paper, wood, clothing, furniture, you name it. At the very beginning of Garbags, we even transformed orange peels into coin purses.

How does Upcycling reduce waste?

Believe it or not, there are more materials that are non-recyclable than those that actually are. Most countries in the world do not possess the technology or the means to do so.


By upcycling, materials that would usually end up in the landfill, where they are buried or incinerated, can get a second improved life.

Why is Upcycling so popular?

Fortunately, we are becoming more aware of the urgency take care of Planet Earth. We are starting to take our own coffee thermos to Starbucks, eat less meat and cycle to work. Disposing things is no longer cool because every single thing can became something better and even more useful thank it was before.


Did someone say bags made from publicity banners and inner tube wallets?


Upcycling vs Recycling: What makes the two of them so different?

Recycling in an industrial process that transforms objects into new materials and then used to make either the same products again or a similar one (an old plastic bottle can later become a package). These end up being broken down and used to create new materials.


But not all recyclables and 100% recyclable, such as aluminium and glass, and some can be recycled but not 100% since they become weaker through the process, like paper and plastic. These last two are mixed with fresh materials in order to create new products.


Upcycling is a phenomenon by which used materials go through a process of getting a second life as they are turned into a new item. By taking different types of waste and mixing it to create a new product, you are adding more value to the original materials and extending its lifespan before they end up in the landfill.


Both recycling and upcycling share the same principal: take used products and turn them into something new. So what makes the two so different?


While recycling is practical, upcycling is a highly creative process which can involve a large variety of techniques and materials to create the finished product. Not only that, it is far more sustainable than recycling. Consider that recycling requires high upfront capital costs (building a new waste recycling unit takes a up a lot of capital that countries are rarely willing to invest), the whole process causes massive pollution (so much energy goes into it, from transportation to sorting and cleaning in separate factories) and poses health risks for dedicated professionals and, lastly, products from recycled waste may not be durable (remember: every time you recycle a material, you are downgrading its quality).


The problematic about recycling doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it — we definitely should. There is no perfect solution but to reduce our consumption and avoid materials from being produced at all in first place!


What are the benefits of Upcycling?

Environmentally speaking, you are saving materials from landfill, reducing the amount of products going to waste and using minimal natural resources.


When it comes to social and economic benefits, the art of upcycling celebrates artisanal work and craftsmanship, supports small local businesses and reduces industrial manufacturing costs.


By choosing upcycled, you are doing your share to help Planet Earth and you become the owner of a literal one-of-a-kind product since no upcycled item is the same.

If Upcycled Products are made of trash, why aren’t they cheaper?

This is a question we are asked often and it clearly reflects how society tend to view waste as meaningless.


Upcycled products require skill and imagination to transform them into something new. We are talking about an extremely challenging process whereby you take materials that are not originally made to be used in bags and accessories and therefore difficult to work with. They come in all different thicknesses, sizes and colours and no two are the same, so each in one becomes a new challenge. Used materials need to be disassembled, cleaned and cut — and, believe us, these are not easy tasks.


If you don’t question mass production fast-fashion products and their prices, why would you doubt that a unique handcrafted and upcycled product is not worth its price?