Weekly Word Archives

Weekly Word 24 February 2015

Illustration by Kevin Christopher M. Tee (2015)
Original Illustration by Kevin Christopher M. Tee (2015)

| ˈʌpsʌɪk(ə)l |

If there’s one word I believe can be used best as a metonymy for social innovation, it’s upcycle, this week’s featured word. Let’s break the word into two: up and cycleCycle, in this case, is taken from recycle, which as we all know is the conversion of things, especially waste, into usable materials. Since this is a big plus for sustainability, the “social” part comes here. Up, in this case, refers to an increase – an increase in value, to be specific; and this is where the “innovation” part comes in.

A word – and concept – that has been gaining traction in recent years, upcycling is a – for lack of a better term – higher-class version of recycling. If to recycle is to simply convert something into usable stuff, to upcycle is to convert that something into stuff that’s not just usable, but also valuable or of superior quality.

I’ve written previously on innovation and turning what would be normally considered waste into something useful and/or of value. In fact, a lot of that post is about upcycling. Jacinto & Lirio, for one, upcycles water hyacinths by turning them into journal sleeves, bags, and others – things with value. This enterprise’s product is for me one of the best I’ve seen in social innovation, because their raw materials aren’t just of low value or commonly found, they’re of junk value. Turning that junk into something quite neat like a notebook sleeve is really something.

You may say a manufacturing business is in itself upcycling, because you turn raw materials into finished goods that are more valuable. True, but those raw materials were clearly meant to be manufactured into a finished good, and so I think that does not count as upcycling. Using something with a clearly intended purpose, however, and turning it into something with another purpose or value; or turning junk into something with value – now, that’s upcycling. Upcycle That takes together ideas on upcycling and presents them on their site in a highly readable format; I suggest you check them out!

The life hacks I’ve referenced in the aforementioned post are also, at least for some of them, ways to upcycle things at home. That you reuse a certain item in an innovative manner – a manner other than what it was conceived for – to address a more pressing or valuable need at home is in itself upcycling already. For example, you have a magazine holder but no longer subscribe to physical magazines; however, your larder is quite extensive and you feel like you could still Make The Most out of your freezer’s space. Using that magazine holder as a food shelf may not look at once like upcycling, but you managed to turn what would otherwise be a nuisance at home into something very useful that adds value to your home. That’s home upcycling for you.

How do you upcycle at home? Do you have a business that upcycles?



  • to reuse (esp. discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original

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