Dear Recyclebank: Isn't upcycling just prolonging the landfill option? When the snazzy craft idea wears off or is damaged it eventually gets thrown out anyway, so how is prolonging the inevitable helpful at all? For example, if we're buying candy in unrecyclable packaging and upcycling it, isn't it just creating more demand for companies to keep making candy in that packaging? Why not just buy candy only in sustainable packaging?
Dear Rebecca: You’re not wrong that going for sustainable packaging is best, when it’s available. However, sometimes the choice isn’t so clear, or better options simply aren’t at hand. While petitioning companies to make changes is an important option, upcycling is something that we can do ourselves (and often more quickly).
Where upcycling shines is in its ability to gain added value from the resources used to make something that might otherwise have been completely disposable. Would it have been better for it not to have been produced in the first place? Sure. But if it’s already here, getting every bit of use possible out of it makes sense and helps to justify the energy and materials used.
Something to remember is that upcycling’s not just for non-sustainable materials — upcycling can also make recyclable materials useful again without sending them through the full recycling process. Recycling is a huge improvement on producing the same materials new, but it still requires more time and energy (and therefore, the use of more natural resources) than most small-scale crafting does.
Keep the other end of the cycle in mind as well: Upcycling items into useful objects can keep you from buying something else you might have needed (or wanted) to purchase, thus preventing needless consumption that would lead to even more waste. Learning to reuse and upcycle effectively can help lessen demand, which can help lessen production, which can help lessen the use of natural resources.