ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Upcycling | Unlocking Green Value with Ecodesign

Updated on May 31, 2011

Upcycling is a term coined by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in the seminal book Cradle to Cradle. In contrast to recycling, where the end product is most of the time of a lower quality that the original input, upcycling seeks to process waste material into new products of equal or higher value. The aim of upcycling is not only to reduce waste and consumption of new materials, but also develop processes that constantly seeks to add value.

zeftron nylon for carpets: environmentally friendly
zeftron nylon for carpets: environmentally friendly

Cradle to Cradle

In the book Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough describes a closed loop process that mimics the operations of the natural world where the waste of one process becomes the resource of another. Hence, the concept of waste is eliminated. In addition, to upcycle means to add value.

In the book, he describes how the process of dyeing fibers, often a pollutive industry, can be reprocessed to utilize only natural dyes. The resultant waste water that came out of the factory was even cleaner and of higher environmental quality than the original intake from the public mains. Upcycling goes hand in hand with regenerative design. Not only was the end product created environmentally friendly and of high quality and value, it also goes towards healing the environment one bit at a time.

Read more about Cradle to Cradle!

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

A manifesto calling for a new industrial revolution, one that would render both traditional manufacturing and traditional environmentalism obsolete. A must read!


Examples of upcycling

Upcycling processes can be best illustrated through examples. From conventional notions of waste materials and products, either by re-engineering the production process or by using a bit of creativity, we can unlock hidden green value. These processes may not be linear, and may involve multiple networks of flows, but hey, that’s how nature functions. Rather than a food chain, think in terms of a food web.

Waste to Solar Energy

Silicon wafers are used to manufacture microelectronic products - mobile phones to computers to consumer electronics. They are also used to monitor and control the steps in the manufacturing process. 250000 of such wafers are used per day and approximately 3.3% of such wafers are scrapped due to errors or flaws. Due to intellectual property of the firms are imprinted on the wafers, they are not sent to external vendors for recycling. Rather, they are either melted down or crushed and sent to the landfill. This amounts to a staggering 3 million discarded wafers.

IBM instead has managed to create a process uses a specialized pattern removal technique to repurpose the scrap wafers to a form used to manufacture silicon-based solar panels. Through the process, these wafers can now be reused for manufacturing calibration or be used to manufacture solar panels.

The upcycling process saves up to 90% of the energy that would have been spent to manufacture new panels. This leads to a reduced carbon footprint, while at the same time increasing production capacity of renewable solar energy.

Plastic Bottles to Medical Stents

Conventional drink bottles like those used by Coke and Pepsi use a plastic called PET. PET bottles are a form of low grade plastic that is non-biodegradable. In contrast, PHA is a type of biodegradable plastic that is used in manufacturing of medical tubes like stents. Naturally, the value of PHA - both economically and environmentally is higher than PET. However, PHA has a drawback is that there is currently no way to manufacture it in large quantities.

On the other hand, billions of PET bottles are made each year. The problem is that few are recycled - only 24% of PET bottles were recycled in the US in 2006. In addition, the recycling process simply converts the low value PET bottles into more PET. It forms a catch-22 situation - as it is low in value, there is no economic incentive to recycle, while some may want to recycle PET, but can't find a better use for it.

Currently, research is underway on a process that uses bateria to convert PET to PHA. Laboratory tests have already confirmed the possibility of such environmental alchemy, and are looking to boost the efficiency of the process. In the near future. it's not inconceivable that the humble PET bottle may be used to manufacture medical stents.

Old Vending Machines to Interior Fittings

Ecoresin is created by a company named 3form. It is a translucent, co-polyester sheet material that is made from waste plastic through a proprietary process. This includes the waster plastic taken from the front of scrapped vending machines and point-of-sale units. They are used for architectural finishings.

Not only are they are lighter than glass, has excellent fire, acoustic and mechanical properties, their layered manufacturing process allows designers to place different materials between each layers, such as petals, leaves and even slices of fruit. Thus, there are unlimited design opportunities for the product. Eco resin panels are easy to fix to walls, floors or kitchen tables tops. Due to the various properties, a product made from waste becomes transformed into a product used in high end interior finishing.

Transmaterial: A Catalog of Materials That Redefine our Physical Environment
Transmaterial: A Catalog of Materials That Redefine our Physical Environment

A book of interesting and cool materials used in totally unexpected ways.


Waste to Art

Human creativity knows no limits. With a bit of creative input, ordinary waste materials like plastic bags and paper rolls can become works of art. Perhaps that old belt can be made into a wristlet, wooden pallets made into furniture and old magazines and books made into scrapbooks.

Getting some inspiration

Re-Creative: 50 Projects for Turning Found Items Into Contemporary Design
Re-Creative: 50 Projects for Turning Found Items Into Contemporary Design

This unique book inspires art, creation, and environmentalism with 50 projects that transform yesterday's trash into today's stylish and useful objects. Using found, discarded, and cast-off items as a foundation-from old computer cases, soda cans, and record album covers to foam packing-readers can fashion stylish clocks, end tables, frames, and much more.



    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • solarpanels4sale profile image


      9 years ago

      Recently, I have been trying to do more upcycling myself. Turning old items into new or finding new ways to use something that was going to be thrown a way. It's a lot of fun.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)