The term ‘upcycle’ was coined by Reiner Pilz in 1994. He didn’t invent upcycling he merely made an important academic distinction between recycling and upcycling. Typically when we recycle we take products such as newspapers or aluminum cans and subject them to an industrial process to turn them into a raw material of a lower value. Recycled paper costs less than a newspaper and recycled aluminum costs less than a can of soda. Generally, recycling only makes economic sense when done a big scale because of the technology needed for converting the material to something of use. For this reason only big businesses and local governments get involved in recycling.
In contrast upcycling is taking an unwanted item or material and turning it into something of greater value. It is re-purposing and can often been done without the help of expensive machinery. Street vendors in Bangokok turn coke cans into statues of tuk tuks, jewelery makers make necklaces from piano pendants. There is often a creative element to upcycling.
Upcycling has been practiced in the developing world for years because of economic necessity. It is, however, quite a new idea to the West.
Hardwood that has been thrown out after a refurbishment or scrap hardwood found in building waste or hardwood from barns and mine shafts or hardwood recovered from the bottom of a lake is all wood that has been abandoned and has very little value.
This hardwood can be taken to a kiln to be dried and then it can be sent to a mill to be cut into flooring planks. The resulting reclaimed hardwood flooring is of much greater value than the scrap wood that it comes from, and so can be considered an upcycled product. Although machinery is needed to dry the wood and cut it into reclaimed hardwood flooring planks it is nevertheless within the range of small businesses and individuals to upcycle unwanted hardwood.
In the case of antique hardwood flooring that is taken from one house and laid in another house no extra value is added and so can be viewed as an example of recycling.