Up-Cycling, Down-Cycling, Re-Cycling & Design

To start with I am going to break down these 3 types of Re-cycling and explain them individually and then put them in context together.

Up-cycling is where re-cycled materials are converted into a new material or product to make it a better quality than it previously was.

“Better environmental value”

Block Michael, (02/9/2010)

Down-cycling is where a recycled material is re-used within a product that has a lesser value. There is a grading system and many items made from materials such as plastics, papers and aluminums cannot be made into the products they first started life as. So they are down-cycled into other products, using a lot of chemical process and need a greater value of products to produce a new product.

Re-Cycling is the process of making products into other products after they have been used for their original purpose. The product can only be classed as having been re-cycled once it has been purchased again. The process of re-cycling can be lengthy, due to the fact the materials need to be collected then transported to recycling units. Once the materials are recycled they are sold onto company’s that remake them into products. These products are then put back onto the market.

“Recycling is the conversion of waste products into new materials”

Roper, Andrew

Recycling has been happening even before the first know human life. Around 65 million years ago all the dinosaurs in the world became extinct and forest’s around the globe were submerged by the sea. At this time sea creatures died and sank to the bottom of the worlds oceans. Their decomposition on the ocean floor led to them being recycled into the fossil fuels of oil, coal and gas.

The Cretan’s around 3000BC dug a hole at the their capital Knossos to dispose of their rubbish. This hole is the first recorded landfill site. Then in 2000BC the bronze-aged people of Britain were re-using their bronze scraps to make other products such as pins. Whilst this was happening in Britain, the Chinese were making compost out their gooier rubbish to help the plants grow. At this point everything was re-used, rubble from old building helped build the Roman roads. In 220 AD the Romans have records of the first dustmen, 2 people would collect rubbish and take it away on wagons.

Around a thousand years later in 1297AD in Britain, the town’s and cities were gathering rubbish quickly. This made the general area a mess which lead to a law being passed saying that the peoples house’s must be rubbish free at all times. The people of Britain ignored this causing in 1354, the city of London to employ people called rakes. These rakes would rake up the rubbish, like autumn leaves from the trees. This rubbish was then taken to the marshes in Essex. The waste at this time was all organic so land fill at this point in time was not a bad thing. This would also be the first process of down-cycling as the food waste would have to biodegrade into compost that could be re-used on the fields.

The book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and his colleague, the German chemist Michael Braungart were the first to really explore the factors of Up-Cycling, Down-Cycling, Re-Cycling & Design. This book looks at how the worlds industry makes products that go from cradle to grave rather than Cradle to Cradle. The Cradle to Cradle concept is where goods are designed from the start to be re-used rather than to be put in the dump. The writers want us as consumers to change our ways and urge the industry’s to change their’s also. This book was the first of its kind to highlight the issue that our current attitudes are polluting and destroying our world. The problem with Industry is that it has worked in the same way since the industrial revolution in the 1800’s.

The first recycling centre in the world was established in 19th century in New York City USA. In the 1970 the first bottle banks were introduced to the United Kingdom.

"Fundamental ecological issue. It illustrates, perhaps more clearly than any other environmental problem, that we must change many of our traditional attitudes and habits.”

Ruckelshaus, William

Now the government has set high targets for local councils to roll out recycling in every home. This is going to increases the amount of down and up cycling. This is also being mirrored in shops where products are being given less packaging which in the long run means there is less natural material being used.

The way up cycle, down cycle and recycle is now being rolled out over the world, is to try and get us as consumers and us as designers to think is this sustainable? Can it be used again? As an interior design student we have to try and create a space that is not just best for the client or brief but also the environment. As young designers we need to understand the importance of making our designs sustainable so either the materials can be up-cycled or down-cycled to try and help the world compete with the drain on it resources. What the big problem is, changing the mindset of people to get them to recycle their paper, plastic, glass and metals.

Up-cycling I believe is the most important out of the three, due to the fact you can take a product after its useful life is finished and making it better than what it already is. If we could make everything to be able to be up-cycled that would make manufacturing reduce so much waste.

Down cycling is still a positive thing and is very important to the chain as it managed to make them into something else, even those that didn’t have as high a property as it had at the start of its life it but still managing to be used in a new product.

Recycling is where both up-cycling and down-cycling come from. If there was not recycling, then the waste would not be getting collected to be turned into these new products. Hopefully the consumer will come to understand that if we keep absorbing our world resources the way we are, we won’t have our world much longer, and if everyone was recycling and playing their part well they are contributing to saving our planet.

This subject of Up-Cycling, Down-Cycling and Recycling will affect everyone whether we know it or not. Maybe as a designer we are more conscious of decisions we are making. To make the right or wrong ones can mean our designs can contribute to the failing or success of our earth.


Block Michael,(Guest Editor)(02/9/2010), Online Available at http://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/371/1/Downcycling-and-upcycling.html [Accessed 01 October 2010]

Clean-energy-ideas.com, 2007. Recycling Definition. [online] Available at:

http://www.cleanenergyideas.com/energy_definitions/definition_of_recycling.html> [Accessed 05 October 2010]

Roper, Andrew,(Satis A/S), Online Available at

http://www.webschool.org.uk/webworld/roperr.html [Accessed 01 October 2010]

Ruckelshaus, William, (Head of EPA)(1972), Online Available at http://www.bfi-salinas.com/kids_trash_timeline-printer.cfm [Accessed 30 September 2010]

The Association of Science-Technology Centers Incorporated and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, (1998), Online Available at http://www.bfi-salinas.com/kids_trash_timeline-printer.cfm [Accessed 03 October 2010]

The Really Rubbish Campaign,2005. A Brief History of Recycling. [online] Available at: [Accessed 04 October 2010]

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