Upcycling is word of the year 2019

10 Dec

Posted in Graphic Specialities

The Cambridge Dictionary has selected Upcycling Word of the Year 2019.

This is a strong signal of the growing attention to environmental issues, as well as a sign of vocabulary use that is becoming increasingly green. In fact, as well as the success of the introduction of the word upcycling, in 2019 the term “plastic footprint” was also added to the dictionary.

Other words, which were contenders to become Word of the Year 2019, reflect the same concern for the effects of climate change and the increasing attention to the environment and ecology: Words such as carbon sink, compostable and preservation. [1]

These words, in addition to the term upcycling, show the growing interest in protecting the environment; in fact, language reflects whilst at the same time influences the culture and civilization of the people who use it. [2] This underlying change, is also felt by companies that are investing in research to apply the upcycling process to the development of new eco-sustainable products, such as Favini with its offer of ecological papers from the creative reuse of industrial waste; Crush, Remake and Refit.

Upcycling is word of the year 2019 (Font: University of Cambridge)

How is the word of the year selected? Every day the Instagram account @CambridgeWords shares and announces a word and upcycling, shared on 4th July, was the word that gathered the most likes and the most support from followers and the social public.

The noun upcycling entered the online Cambridge Dictionary in 2011, after the authors of the website noticed a peak in searches for this word over the previous year. Since then, the searches for the term upcycling have increased by 181% and doubled during 2019. [3]

Examples of upcycling can be found for years prior to its inclusion in the dictionary. Do you know when Favini started? Read on to find out.

What does upcycling mean and what is the difference to recycling?

Upcycling literally means “to use waste materials, to be thrown away, to create new objects with greater value than the original material”.

Upcycling is not synonymous with recycling, but it is something that goes further.

In the paper sector, we talk about recycled paper, meaning the material produced using cellulose fibres from paper and cardboard recycling. While in the case of ecological papers from upcycling we are talking about papers obtained from the creative reuse of industrial waste from other supply chains. In the case of Favini for instance it means the use of by-products from agri-industrial, leather or textile, to produce respectively their Crush, Remake and Refit papers.

The synonym closest in meaning to upcycling is creative reuse, that is when a waste material finds new life and acquires a greater value when compared to the original object.

“Unlike recycling, which brings back a material in its life cycle to the original properties, upcycling enhances it thanks to an intelligent design that makes it more interesting from an economic, emotional and aesthetic point of view”, writes Max McMurdo, a designer with studies on creative reuse practices, in his manual “UPCYCLING, or the art of recovery full of original ideas”. [4]

When and where was upcycling born?

The term upcycling was officially coined in 2002, however it was first referenced in a German book in 1996. In 2002, William McDonough and Michael Braungart wrote a book titled “Cradle to Cradle: The Way We Make Things” about the benefits of upcycling and its place in creating and marketing different types of products. This book crystalized the definition of upcycling as a simple real-world method of preventing waste through the everyday recycling of old products into newer ones. [5]

In Favini the practice of upcycling began in 1992 with the patent of Alga Carta. [6]

Shiro Alga Carta is the Favini’s paper born from the infestation of algae in the Venice Lagoon.

What is the purpose of upcycling?

As we have seen, upcycling is the process that allows us to create a new product of greater value from waste or waste materials.

The purpose of upcycling is in fact to reduce waste and improve the efficiency of the use of resources. It is the opposite of down cycling, which is the recycling of waste in which the recycled material has a lower quality and functionality when compared to the original.

Creating a jewel with discarded computer parts, building a bench with old wooden pallets or building houses using containers or materials recovered from a landfill, are all upcycling operations. It is where the new product has a higher value than the component materials which make it up. [7]
Other examples of upcycling can be found in our blog, click and read the article L’Upcycling: una nuova frontiera verso la green art.

The Favini case: From Shiro Alga Carta the precursor of upcycling, to Refit, the new paper with textile residues

Upcycling is a key element in Favini’s historical journey. Along with the circular economy, it has characterized Favini since the early 1990s, driven by the search for alternative solutions to use by-products as precious raw materials for the production of low environmental impact papers, such as Shiro, Crush, Remake and Refit.

Favini’s experience in the creative reuse of innovative raw materials for the production of eco-sustainable papers originated in the 90s with Shiro Alga Carta, patented in times when the word upcycling had not yet entered the vocabulary and was not discussed widely. This paper, born from the infestation of algae in the Venice Lagoon, had a remarkable success that continues today: the production process creatively reuses algae from environments at risk in other parts of the world.

Favini’s offer of ecological papers was enriched in 2012 with Crush, the paper produced with 15% of agri-industrial by-products of corn, citrus fruit, kiwi, olive, almond, hazelnut, coffee, lavender, cherry and grape, which replace up to 15% of tree cellulose.

In 2015 it was the turn of Remake, another ecological paper containing 25% of leather processing waste, and finally in 2019  Refit was created, a  new paper with 15% residue from wool and cotton textile processing.

Find out more about Refit, the Favini paper originating from the upcycling of textile waste, read the article: Refit: paper, fashion and circular economy.

The single aspect that unites these papers with their strong green connotations is the application of the circular economy and upcycling philosophy for their production.


[1] ‘Upcycling’ crowned Cambridge Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2019

[2] Cambridge Dictionary, “Upcycling” è la parola dell’anno

[3] ‘Upcycling’ crowned Cambridge Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2019

[4] Cosa è l’Upcycling e la sua differenza col Recycling

[5] History of Upcycling

[6] Shiro Alga Carta

[7] Upcycling

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