Recycling, downcycling, upcycling … what does it all mean?

Recycling, downcycling, upcycling … what does it all mean?

First, we need to review the definition of recycling in order to better understand what upcycling and downcycling are.


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Let's start with "recycling." 

Recycling can be defined as “making new with old." While not super scientific, the basic idea is to transform a product/material into another object/substance different from its predecessor. And voila - a new object that requires less or no new raw materials. Recycling also refers to the process of rebuilding the same product, identical, from the old one. 

There are two different types of recycling: upcycling and downcycling. Here, a distinction is made between closed-loop recycling and open-loop recycling. To better understand, let’s take the example of a plastic bottle:

 bouteille plastique pollution


  • In a closed loop, the plastic bottle will be recycled into a new plastic bottle, identical to the first one. It is therefore an infinite loop since plastic is not sent to a landfill, but reused instead.


  • In an open loop, the plastic bottle is transformed. This example can be found in many textiles. New materials created here are not recyclable afterwards, and will surely end life in a landfill. The loop is not infinite.



Downcycling and upcycling are actually recycling trends.

Downcycling consists of recycling the material over and over again, until it loses its quality. At this point, the material will become unusable. For example, the paper in a book can be transformed into recycled paper. This one is obviously more green, but of lower quality. Another example, is the steel used to make cars. Once recycled, this steel can no longer be used because of the safety standards of the automotive industry. However, it can be reused in the building industry - voila a new use for it.

Upcycling first appeared in the 1990s in developing countries. Upcycling refers to using end-of-life materials to make it a new product with added value. That is to say, we re-use a product that is no longer used, or that can no longer be used, and turn it into a useful product.

This type of recycling has a positive impact on the environment since it defers reduces the amount of waste in a landfill. In addition, the material is not processed like in downcycling, instead it is cut, folded, molded, etc. into a new product. Upcycling is like the “Do It Yourself” form of recycling. 




SAOLA shoes are neither upcycled nor downcycled.

The materials used in SAOLA shoes are already recycled materials, so they do not qualify as "upcycled." 

Let’s go back to the example of plastic bottles. They are first harvested, whether in the garbage or in nature, then are transformed into smaller and smaller shavings before being transformed, without additional chemicals, into pellets. These are then melted and stretched like tissue. We are therefore in an open loop where, once the SAOLA shoes is obtained, it becomes complicated to recycle it (like most other shoes).



We can also not say that it is downcycled because the quality of the materials used in the shoe are not of a lower quality compared to their previous function. The original material is used differently without altering the quality.


We use open loop recycling! The materials are harvested from nature and then transformed into SAOLA sneakers. In all transparency, we are giving these fossil-fueled materials a second life, but it is still complicated to make this loop infinite. Nevertheless, we are working on ways that would make it possible to switch to a closed loop system.

What does that mean? Hopefully, we will soon be able to recycle SAOLA shoes. Although it is complicated to set up, we are committed and on the right track.