Framingham Recycles: Discovering the New in the Old With Upcycling

Editor’s Note: This is a weekly column by the Recycling Coordinator for the City of Framingham. Residents can submit questions to Recycling Coordinator Stephen Sarnosky via SOURCE at


By Isabella Petroni & Stephen Sarnosky

FRAMINGHAM – Upcycling is a term that most Americans have either never heard of or heard of it in passing.

To be honest, I hadn’t really heard of it and didn’t really know what the term meant and became curious to know how it fits into the grand scheme of things. Having researched it, it’s something that I think we have been doing all along, either out of necessity or in good conscious?

The definition of upcycling is taking an item that is no longer needed or wanted and giving it new life as something that is useful or creative. While people have been doing it for years, the term was first introduced in the mid-1990s.

The term “upcycling” was brought into the public eye through the book Cradle to Cradle: “Remaking the Way We Make Things and solidified its regular use starting in the year 2002.

The confusing part about upcycling is what makes it different from recycling.

To understand the difference between traditional recycling and upcycling, it may help to look at an example of each.

Let’s say you receive a letter in the mail, open it, and realize there’s no need to keep it. Instead of throwing it away, toss this piece of paper into a recycling bin, and it will make its way through the recycling process and remanufactured into recycled paper products.

If you were to take a stack of old newspapers and fold them to create a biodegradable flower pot, this would be an example of upcycling. You are taking a simple material (newspapers) and creating something of higher quality (a flower pot) all on your own.

If you have a teapot with a broken lid and you choose to use it as a place to store all of your pens and pencils instead of throwing it away, this is also an example of upcycling.

Another way to think about the difference between upcycling and recycling is also found in the process.

Recycling breaks down old products and uses a chemical process to convert them into new products by using other resources. It changes the form of the product.

On the other hand, none or very little alteration is made to the composition of the old product while some new resources are used to create something of a higher value. Upcycling needs little or no alteration to the form of the item.

Why has upcycling become so popular? Why is it good for the environment?

The goal of upcycling is to prevent wasting potentially useful materials by making use of existing ones. Upcycling helps to reduce the consumption of new raw materials when creating new materials. This results in a reduction in air and water pollution, energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a significant step towards a culture where the products are cleaner, healthier and usually have a better value than the materials used to make them.

An increased awareness of environmental responsibility and a slow economy has led to a major increase in upcycling. People are always looking to save money and the planet, mostly save money.

Upcycling/repurposing old items is ultimately a good way to prolong sending things to the trash or to recycling bins.

Recycling Q&A

One of our readers was interested in knowing if “Framingham offers compost bins to residents?”

DPW Sanitation sells compost bins at the Recycling Drop-Off Center located at 255 Mt Wayte Ave at a cost of $25 each while supplies last.


Photo submitted to SOURCE with the column.

Framingham Source Editor Susan Petroni

Susan Petroni Framingham Source Editor Email: Phone: 508-315-7176

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