Thursday, December 6, 2012

Upcycling v. Recycling

This is a good graphic to show the difference between upcycling and recycling. 
Upcycling means the material is continually reused, such as with aluminium cans.  With aluminum, we have true upcycling because the material can be used over and over again as it does not degrade with reuse and can be used for the same purposes.  Glass also is a truly upcycled material.  However, paper and plastic are not.

With recycling, the materials are used over again, but not for the same purposes and will ultimate end up in landfill.  Plastic has to be continually downgraded until it has to be trashed.  Paper can be used until the fibers break down completely.  I was once told at a recycling facility that it is pointless to recycle some papers and cardboards (such as cereal boxes) because the paper in those products have already been recycled to the point that they are now worthless.

I know many people who feel they have done their part by taking plastic bags to the recycling bins.  What they don't realize is that 1) making the original bag involved the use of petroleum, precious energy and water resources, and the release of toxins into the environment and 2) the recycling process actually uses more energy than it took to make the original bag.  Recycling the bags does not save the planet, although it is better than sending them directly to landfill.

Remember:  It is better to refuse, then reuse, before recycling.  Recycling should be the last resort.


EcoGrrl said...

Good chart and appreciate the mention of downcycling that plastic recycling is - it's a 'better than nothing, but not the answer' type of way to address - LOVE 'refuse first" mention :)

Just an FYI though that it's not pointless to recycle cereal boxes, etc. - I went through the certified master recycler training here and while there are some papers that are of lower quality, most can indeed be recycled as long as they're not torn up into shreds (shredded items are better for your compost - the fibers are too broken to be made into paper again).

The things that cannot get recycled are things like freezer containers (i.e., ice cream tubs, tv dinner boxes, etc.) and butter boxes because they actually have plastic woven into them to keep the moisture from disintegrating the box. So staying out of the frozen food aisle is the best bet (and I buy butter by the cube and get olive oil in bulk which seems to keep my fat consumption down, ha!).

Excellent post as always :)

Cherie said...

EcoGrrl, I'm envious of your certified master recycler program. That's the kind of nerd I am. :)