From Waste To Wonder: Navigating US Import Regulations Of Upcycled Goods

From Waste To Wonder: Navigating US Import Regulations Of Upcycled Goods

Upcycled goods have generated increased interest over the past few years as more consumers and businesses seek ways to reduce waste and increase sustainability. What are upcycled goods? Upcycling is taking old, discarded items and transforming them into new products with higher value. 

Although there is an increase in demand, upcycle imports are prone to non-compliant penalties and delays that, in most instances, have to do with wrongly classifying goods and not accurately identifying the country of origin. Upcycling involves taking materials from sources and transforming them into a new product, making identifying the origins and classifications a little more complex. 

In today’s post, we will uncover the regulations and restrictions for importing upcycled goods into the US to understand the compliance requirements better so you can grow, enhance and promote the sustainability of your small business. 

What Is The Difference Between Recycled And Upcycled?

Recycling and upcycling are similar in that they are both methods of repurposing materials to reduce waste; however, there is a difference between them.

Recycling involves breaking down materials into their raw form and using them to create new products. For example, recycled plastic bottles are broken, melted, and turned into new plastic products like water bottles or containers.

On the other hand, upcycling involves taking materials no longer useful in their original form and transforming them into something of higher value and better quality. For example, an old bicycle wheel can be upcycled into a chandelier.

What Are The Types Of Upcycling?

Upcycling is becoming more popular amongst individuals looking to DIY their inventions and businesses seeking a more sustainable way to innovate new products. The types of upcycling that can be seen in the market today consist of the following; 


Designers and carpenters transform old, worn-out pieces into unique creations. For example, an old wooden pallet can be transformed into a stylish coffee table for your living room. 

Fashion and Accessories

Businesses and individuals can create fashionable and sustainable clothing and accessories. An old t-shirt, for example, can be transformed into a trendy tote bag or scarf.

Electronic Devices

Electronic devices can also be upcycled, with big tech companies offering a trade-in program for old phones, tablets, and laptops. These devices are then refurbished and sold as certified pre-owned products, reducing electronic waste and promoting sustainability.

Packaging Materials

Sustainable packaging materials can be created through upcycling, such as cardboard boxes and shipping materials.

Importing Upcycled Goods Into The US 

When importing upcycled goods into the US, a few things to consider would help you ensure a smooth journey for upcycled shipments crossing the border. 

Identify The Country Of Origin For Upcycled Goods 

Determining the country of origin for upcycled goods is more challenging than for brand-new products. Upcycling involves taking materials from various sources and transforming them into a new product which often changes the initial use. 

What is the country of origin?

Pro Tip: It's important to note that the determination of the country of origin for upcycled goods can be complex and may require the expertise of a customs broker. A customs broker can help ensure that the correct country of origin is identified and that all applicable regulations and requirements are met for importing or exporting upcycled goods. Speak with a customs broker to learn more.

How to Correctly Classify Upcycled Goods 

The Harmonized System (HS) is an international system that classifies goods for Customs purposes. As mentioned before, importing upcycled goods into any country is more challenging than importing a brand-new product due to the complexities in classifying these goods

For brand-new products, the HS code is based on the materials used to make the product, the intended use, and other factors. However, the HS classification can involve more steps for upcycled goods. Since upcycled products are made from materials already used, you will need to determine if the new product has changed enough that the essential character of the item by US Customs and  Border Protection (CBP) standards has shifted.

Webinar: How To Classify A Product

The specific code will vary depending on the product, but it's essential to ensure that the correct code is used to avoid any issues with Customs. 

Classifying A Brand-new Product Vs. An Upcycled Good

Lets take a look at how the tariff may change when the intend use of the product changes.

A Brand-new Cotton T-shirt

The HS classification of a brand-new cotton t-shirt falls under a specific tariff classification, and factors such as thread count, composition, and intended wear all influence how a textile product is classified.

An Upcycled Cotton T-shirt

The HS classification of an upcycled cotton t-shirt would depend on the type of processing done to the t-shirt. A repaired and cleaned t-shirt would still fall under the same HS classification as a new cotton t-shirt. However, if the t-shirt were taken apart to make a tote bag, it may change the product entirely as it may no longer be able to fulfill it’s original use and could result in a change to the classification, referred to as HTS code. 

Upcycling has become popular because it offers a way to address environmental concerns, express creativity, and personalized home decor and fashion items. 

Importing upcycled goods into the US can be a challenge for new importers or small businesses; however, it will be less of one with proper planning and the right resources. 

Upcycling is helping to promote sustainability and innovation in international trade. Business owners and importers can leverage this information to gain a competitive edge in today’s global market by prioritizing sustainable practices. Get in touch with our trade advisory specialist, who will help identify, mitigate and solve the regulatory and logistical hurdles involved in importing your upcycle goods into the US.

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About Author
Breanna Leininger

Breanna has been in the industry since 2004 and has dealt with clearances and compliance concerns for a multitude of commodities for all ports of entry and all modes of transportation. She has a Bachelors in Communications, Bachelors in Political Science & Government, is a Licensed Customs Broker as well as Certified Customs Specialist. Breanna has been asked to be the speaker in a variety of events including the BC Agriculture Show, Doing Business in the US seminar and has been a contributor to Small Business BC publications. She was recently nominated for the NCBFAA Government Affairs Conference Emerging Leaders and Mentors by the NBCBA. She participates in the Northern Border Customs Brokers Association and the NCBFAA annual conferences in Washington, DC. Breanna has a deep passion for politics, global affairs, and how communication shapes policy and international business relationships. She feels very fortunate to work in an industry that allows her to take part in how policy impacts the global economy and domestic businesses of all shapes and sizes.

While we strive for accuracy in all our communications, as the Importer of Record it is incumbent upon your company to ensure that you are aware of the requirements under the new regulations so that you maintain compliance as always.
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