Our products such as Bracenets, dog leashes and keychains are completely new – and yet they are made of used material. How does that fit together? The answer is simple: we upcycle recovered ghost nets that were originally intended for many years of fishing in harsh environments and are thus still suitable for daily use. In this article, we will take a closer look at upcycling, what the differences are to recycling, and why we choose to upcycle.
Passing on, recycling and upcycling
Not all things we no longer need have to be thrown away. For instance, we can pass a lot of things on to family or friends. We are consciously aware of letting these things go – in contrast to disposing of our daily waste. We rarely ask ourselves where our packaging, plastic bags and more end up – after all, that is the job of our local waste collection. At least we are good at separating waste in Germany, so that packaging waste can be recycled. However, the amount recycled in actuality varies – depending on the source and calculation criteria, 46%, 16% or only 5.6% of our plastic waste is recycled.
Recycling is an important form of waste management. However, there is another method that gives waste a new life: upcycling. This process upgrades waste and uses it for new purposes. In the following, we take a closer look at recycling and then explain the upcycling process that we use to manufacture our products.
Recycling – waste management on a grand scale
Recycling is the process of returning used materials into the product cycle. First, they are separated and categorised by machines, or sometimes even by hand, on a conveyor belt in waste sorting facilities. Then plastic, metal, and glass are melted down separately by type, whereas paper is shredded and laid out in new sheets, smoothed out and dried.
Unfortunately, not all plastic packaging is recyclable. If there are too many layers of film or materials are mixed and they cannot be separated, these materials can only be “downcycled” – used to produce inferior materials or incinerated to generate energy. This illustrates the importance of proper waste separation and calls on manufacturers to produce packaging that can be easily broken down into its individual parts.
Recycling alone is not the answer
The manufacturing process of consumer goods and products is complex. Raw materials are extracted from the environment and sometimes transported over long distances, a lot of energy is used for production. Recycling offers the advantage that no new resources are required, the creation of secondary raw materials requires much less energy than the initial production of raw materials such as glass.
It becomes more critical when plastic waste is shipped, recycled and processed abroad, and the finished products are then returned. Although the products are being recycled, this cannot compensate for the long transport distances in terms of sustainability.
Last but not least, it cannot always be avoided that new resources are added during the recycling process. This is why recycling only appears third in the waste hierarchy – reduce, reuse, recycle – and reusing waste via upcycling can be a more sustainable alternative.
Why upcycling matters
A toast to upgrading waste: upcycling. Material that has already been used and does not end up as waste, but is converted or reused for new purposes. In contrast to recycling, materials are not taken apart, melted and used for new products; they are used in their existing form, saving resources and energy. With a little imagination, there are no limits to the applications of upcycling.
Upcycling products can be created from the material of only one waste product, several combined or by adding other materials, either recycled or newly produced. In whatever form, upcycling is an important step towards a sustainable lifestyle, as it increases the lifespan of materials and breaks away from the mentality of consumerism.
Upcycling at Bracenet
Upcycling is a subject close to our hearts, as our products such as Bracenets, keychains and dog leashes are made from upcycled ghost nets. By giving these nets a new purpose, we free the oceans from plastic waste and simultaneously create new products without raising the demand for new materials or consuming a lot of water or energy. Since we want our products to last as long as possible, we are also happy to repair your Bracenet in case it should break.
Upcycling? The trend is rising!
More and more fashion designers are also choosing to upcycle and thus fighting against the current of fast fashion and overproduction. One such label that we know well and work together with, is Bridge & Tunnel. You can find out what makes this label so special in our article on our collaboration. But upcycling is not reserved for manufacturers like Bracenet or Bridge & Tunnel, it is a method that you can apply even at home.
But upcycling is not reserved for manufacturers like Bracenet or Bridge & Tunnel, it is a method that you can apply even at home. Whether you repair items, take clothes apart and sew something new, create shopping bags out of old pillowcases, make collector’s items out of wooden pallets – there are no limits to your imagination. As a resource for inspiration: On Instagram alone, there are 1.8 million entries under the hashtag #Upcycling.
Upcycling and recycling: similarities and differences
In order to compare upcycling and recycling in more detail, we have listed their main features for you in the following table:
|The material had a first use||The material had a first use|
|The material was seen as waste before further processing||The material was seen as waste before further processing|
|The original material is preserved and is upgraded through resource-friendly processing. This requires less energy input.||The material can be converted into raw materials from which new products are made. This often requires high energy input.|
|Requirement: original material is durable and can still be used||Prerequisite: separation of waste, so that metals, glass and plastics can be processed individually|