The Difference Between Recycling, Upcycling and Downcycling

– Teresa Madaleno:

Television personality Fred Rogers, better known as Mr. Rogers, once said, “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” It’s doubtful he was thinking about waste recycling or upcycling when he said this, but at Sparta Group, we think the quote applies.

Sparta’s Environment division processes electronic waste in a way that most competitors do not – the company never looks at an electronic as if it has reached the end. In other words, at the Sparta e-waste facility in Toronto nothing gets thrown out. Instead, the electronics that people consider obsolete are diverted from the waste stream. They are either recycled or upcycled. Many brands and publications use these terms, but some don’t fully comprehend what they mean. When brands use such words knowing that they are the wrong term to apply to their products, it’s called “greenwashing”.

In this blog, we attempt to explain the difference between recycling, upcycling and downcycling.


This is when you transform something into reusable material. It converts the object into something of the same value. Recycling allows us to regain material for human use. On a regular basis Sparta Group’s e-waste facility in Toronto can recycle computers, cell phones, electronic games, fax machines, printers, household appliances, the list goes on and on.

Recovering electronics through recycling means that we use a fraction of the energy needed to create brand new electronic products.


Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, means taking normally discarded waste material and converting it into something of higher quality and value.

Upcycling is even more energy-efficient than recycling and allows for innovation when imagining things to create with old products, including electronics.


This involves the reuse of materials, but the quality diminishes, making it of lower value. Downcycling is not as desirable as recycling or upcycling. Today, many brands prefer to focus on recycling. Still, downcycling shouldn’t be considered bad since it is a way to divert waste from landfill, which is the ultimate goal.

So, as you can see, not all “cycling” is created equal. All these forms should be part of our lives though. Recycling, Upcycling and Downcycling are viable options in our quest to reduce waste. With these processes and a stronger effort to reduce product consumption we can make our world a cleaner place. At Sparta we know it is possible to do better.

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