Upcycling is the perspective and process whereby waste product and scrap is intrinsically valuable in the creation of something of greater worth.
It is the opposite of downcycling–or traditional recycling–where waste product is typically broken down into smaller textures in order to be reused as a bulk ingredient in something else.
An example of upcycling is the reclaimed lumber market. Old barns and dilapidated industrial buildings are often sought out by harvesters for the aged planks and timbers. Many times this wood is sold at a premium price point due to the character and patina that can only develop over time. This prized building material costs many times more than its fresh counterpart at the local hardware store, and is only used for the finest wood projects and architectural designs.
In this example, reclaimed wood is a commercially viable solution: it reuses lumber that often times is disposed of, it reduces dependence–however slight–on modern logging, and supports the employees and families involved in its creation, and feeds the economy through increased sales and business tax.
All it takes is one creative thinker to connect the dots, and link a waste product with a new opportunity to create a product of intrinsic value. Fortunately, there are advocates in the educational system today that are teaching children the value of thinking differently when it comes to the creative re-use of our waste products.