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Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.
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.
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 block 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 1998, the free translation of upsizing (the opposite of downsizing) book first published in 1998. 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.
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