Upcycle or Recycle?
Upcycling or Recycling – What Should You Do?
Millions of Americans participate in the weekly ritual of placing their recyclables out on the curb for collection. But what is recycling exactly? And is it the best way to reuse old materials?
Recycling is the process that turns old and discarded materials into raw materials that can be used to manufacture new products. Using recycled materials reduces the demand for new ones, which saves energy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and conserves natural resources, including lumber, petroleum and, yes, even water. Yet in spite of all its positives, recycling is still just one step above burning or disposing of materials on the waste hierarchy:
Why? Because recycling, like incineration and disposal, decreases the value of the original material. An intact soda bottle is always more valuable than a pile of plastic pellets, just as a dresser is more valuable than a pile of wood scraps. That’s why, when given the choice, you should always try to reuse something rather than recycle it. But if you can’t reuse it as intended, you can always upcycle it.
What Is Upcycling?
Whereas recycling breaks down discarded materials into raw materials, upcycling instead uses those discarded materials to create something new with equal or greater value than the original.
The benefits of upcycling are many and varied. For the individual, it saves money that would otherwise be spent on new furniture, decor and goods. But the large-scale benefits are reducing the amount of discarded materials sent to landfills and saving even more resources than recycling alone would.
Upcycling has even turned into its own little industry. Entire companies are devoted to the idea of turning what most would consider trash into something to be treasured. There’s Bottle Cutting Inc, creators of the Kinkajou bottle cutter, as well as Hipcycle, an online seller of all things upcycled, such as these coasters made from circuit boards.
How You Can Start Upcycling
The key to upcycling is to embrace your creative side. Even something as basic as an old plant pot can be remade into something both functional and beautiful with a little imagination. Here are some quick tips to follow to get into the upcycling habit:
- Keep Your Eyes Open: Look around your home for items you no longer use or need and use them as a jumping off point. If they’re worth turning into something useful, get creative, if not be sure to recycle it properly.
- Think Before You Toss: Floorboards, old window panes, and other sturdy wooden items can all be reused in some way. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but as long as you save them you will always have materials to work with.
- Quality Over Cosmetics: As far as selecting materials goes, Heather Christian Iglesias says to “choose pieces based on quality, not their shell or current facade. You can always sand, strip or paint items to your taste.”
If you aren’t sure whether something is worth upcycling versus recycling, just remember that with a little ingenuity you can turn virtually any trash into treasure.