Like recycling, but better

April 29, 2024

How upcycling transforms waste into value.

Transforming waste into more valuable products

We’re all familiar with the idea of recycling. Specialist companies take waste products (plastic bottles, for example), process them, and turn them back into plastic bags, fleece clothing or other plastic items. It’s an excellent way to reduce waste. But there’s an even better way. With ‘upcycling’, waste is transformed into more valuable products, thereby reducing the need for virgin materials.

Even more sustainable than recycling, upcycling turns waste streams – including existing landfills – into a long-term source of raw materials for industry and reduces the need for virgin raw materials. It transforms a social and economic problem into a valuable resource for the future.

Most recycled waste materials such as plastics, metals and paper are in fact “downcycled”. This means that because recycling reduces their purity, they are recycled to lesser grades, and eventually end up as waste. The process reduces waste overall, but mostly does not replace the virgin materials used in original products. Aluminium is the exception: it can be infinitely upcycled.

Upcycling on an industrial scale

Although our products are made from stone, one of the planet’s most abundant raw materials, ROCKWOOL Group practices upcycling on an industrial scale. This is because the technologies that create our products also enable us to use waste from other industries as a raw material. On average, our stone wool is made from one-third upcycled waste, including slag from the metal industry and sludge from water treatment plants. This means that rather than being sent to landfill, these low-value by-products are used in producing stone wool insulation that makes buildings more comfortable and energy efficient.

Our technique of combining an abundant raw material with upcycled waste materials that have few recycling options can have a better environmental impact than products made from 100 percent recycled material. That’s because once waste has been upcycled into stone wool, it’s useful forever i.e. it can be endlessly recycled into new stone wool of the same quality. And it’s why our products are a natural fit for the “circular economy” and for sustainable buildings of the future.


* T. W. Dahl, et al. 2011, International Geology Review (Volume 53 Numbers 7-8, June-July 2011) ‘The human impact on natural rock reserves using basalt, anorthosite, and carbonates as raw materials in insulation products’

Stone material

The Earth produces 38,000 times more stone material than is used to make
ROCKWOOL stone wool annually*

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