Upcycling and recycling are the best innovative methods in today’s fashion world to reach sustainability in clothing and fashion. The terms ‘recycling’ and ‘upcycling’ are sometimes used interchangeably. But in reality, the two processes are unrelated and quite different from each other.
Both upcycling and recycling reduce the amount of junk, the volume of textile waste, and the ultimate volume of carbon emissions that goes to our landfills. But the difference lies in their ways to reduce the waste mass. While recycling slightly decreases the quality of certain materials, upcycling turns that same waste into a product of a higher quality.
What is the need for upcycling or recycling?
Textile industries usually work for producing high-end fast fashion products. The producers remain concerned about increasing their business and avail the latest market trends to the customers in the least possible time.
In this quest, they compromise with quality, ethics, and sustainability. As the industry is growing, the negative, adverse impacts of the fast fashion brands on the planet are becoming more brutal and ethically unacceptable.
Nowadays, consumers are also becoming more aware of the unethical practices of the fashion industry. Hence, there is a need in the industry to move towards sustainable fashion and perform ethically relevant production technologies.
Upcycling and recycling in the textile industry
Upcycling and recycling are the best techniques to opt for sustainability. Many producers have now started using these methods in their production process. Even consumers can also use upcycling on their own.
Well, many have heard about recycling but most people are not aware of anything about upcycling. You can think of them as a way forward to sustainable lifestyle and fashion. Each of these – upcycling and recycling are very important from the environmental perspective.
Upcycling occurs when the producers or consumers use their old stuff, all or in part, as it is to create a new piece. While recycling is the thing that occurs when the industry reduces the discarded products into their former forms. These raw materials are then reused to create new products.
The new products, however, can either carry the same look or become something new. Upcycling and recycling both are applicable to pre-consumer and post-consumer waste materials.
Upcycling and recycling- the pre-consumer textile waste
In pre-consumer textile waste, there are a lot of materials that can be upcycled. Most industries consider and treat textile scraps, fabric waste, thread, and other leftover byproducts or materials left during the garment manufacturing process usually as waste.
But nowadays, by following innovative garmenting processes like zero-waste manufacturing, upcycling has become much easy for producers. Since the textile producers remain keen on mass-production, many of their unsold deadstock materials also go to waste.
Thereby, instead of discarding these deadstock products, fashion brands can upcycle them. By upcycling, it means reusing those products in a creative way to create a new fashion.
Otherwise, brands can also send these things to recycling centers. When the stuff is recycled, then producers can reuse that to create new garments. They can either manufacture the same craft or design a new fashion out of it.
Upcycling and recycling the post-consumer textile waste
Post-consumer textile waste is the waste that generates when consumers have used and then discarded the fashion products. As many consumers are stuck up with the fast fashion cycles, they contribute to half of the textile waste.
Just as the industry practices mass-production, fashion-driven consumers also prefer purchasing these products in massive amounts. Once they lay their hands on the latest trend, they start looking forward to getting the new one coming long.
In this race, they hardly wear the clothes more than once and then throw them in the trash. The low quality of fast fashion is also a reason for this kind of practice. The fashion products don’t stay around for long and within a few weeks of use, you can see them shredding apart.
So, all these products eventually become waste and end up in landfills. But if consumers, instead of throwing their unwanted clothes into the garbage, upcycle or recycle them it will help reduce most of the waste volume sent to landfills.
For example, if you have jeans that don’t fit you, you can upcycle that into shorts or create denim from that jeans. With recycling, the jeans are dissolved and made into new fabric. Then the fabric is again designed into new jeans or denim.
What is the difference between upcycling and recycling?
- Recycling is the process of turning or processing discarded waste into a reusable material or product. Upcycling, however, is a very specific/ traditional form of recycling that reuses waste to form a new usable material or product
- Recycling involves breaking down the product into its constituent forms and using them to form another product. Upcycling includes repurposing or refashioning the existing products uniquely in a creative way.
- The quality of the new product that is manufactured by recycling is often lesser than the original product’s quality. The products designed under upcycling are always of higher quality than the original.
- Upcycling doesn’t include any chemical mechanism to repurpose the textile waste. Hence, it helps reduce tons of carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases to enter our atmosphere. But in a recycling system, the breaking down of materials requires a chemical mechanism that is emissions-intensive.
- Fabrics and textiles waste are not the easiest items to recycle. There remains a lot of confusion around how to recycle them into new clothing without compromising quality or material. With this issue in the limelight, upcycling becomes a much more appealing and sustainable option.
- With recycling, you need to separate your unwanted clothing and send them to recycling bins. But with upcycling, you can use your own creativity to produce something new in a fun way.
- Upcycling is much better than recycling. It’s less expensive, uses fewer resources, water, and energy. But unlike upcycling, recycling requires more resources, mechanisms, and energy.
Also read: Recycling – how it promotes sustainability
To conclude, both upcycling and recycling are way forwards to the sustainable fashion industry. But in terms of environmental perspective, upcycling is always a better and more eco-friendlier choice than recycling fashion.