This blog might just give you major deja vu of your school lesson about the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). A lot has been added to the mix since then. And it can be confusing. Like, isn’t repurposing just a fancy word for reusing? Or doesn’t upcycle basically lead to ‘reducing’ waste.
It’s confusing because the result of all the activities is the same: Reduced, and better managed waste. But how we get there is different. Each terms denotes a unique process of getting the most out of our products while having the least negative impact on the planet.
Repurposing is the easiest. Both to do, and to understand. Repurposing means using an object for a purpose different than what it was originally intended to do. Items are usually repurposed at the end of their life cycle. It’s a lot like reusing. When you save takeaway containers to use as food containers at home, you are reusing them. However when you use them as water holders for birds, or a palette, or a sewing box, it’s repurposing since it’s different from the original use.
Tweet credits @hamdan
Okay, what about recycling then?
Recycling is the process of breaking down objects (like cans, bottles, paper, glass) to create new items. It’s a slightly industrial and technical process, and usually requires the use of a special recycling bin or machinery. Recycling is popular because it is a great solve for non-biodegradable items. However, sometimes it can be a bit expensive and create a bit of waste too (like any manufacturing process).
And finally coming to upcycling
Upcycling is often called ‘creative’ recycling. That should give you a sense of what it is. Upcycling means altering an item slightly (or a part of it) to create a new product. Unlike recycling it does not include breaking down items completely. Upcycling doesn’t usually require machinery, just creativity and some simple tools. In fact, in many upcycled items you can still identify the original item, something that is not possible to do in recycling. So when you alter an old sari to create a dress, you are in fact, upcycling.
Image credits: Living spaces
The difference between these...
Let’s take the example of plastic water bottles. If you use them to store water again and again you’re reusing the bottle. If you use them to store grains, paints, or pot plants (without making any change to the bottle), you are repurposing. If you toss it in a recycling bin, and they break it into tiny small pieces (or melt it) to create a new plastic item, that’s recycling. And finally if you grab some scissors and tape and turn it into a bird feeder, you are upcycling.
The result of all is the same: A new use for an item that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. However what’s different is how much we change the product and how much energy we put in the process.
But which one is the best?
Recycling requires the most energy, resources and sometimes causes wastage too. Relatively upcycling and repurposing are easy to do, and more sustainable. They also assist the process of recycling by making the lifecycle of the product longer. And of course, not all products can be recycled, either. It’s recommended that we try to repurpose and upcycle products before we toss them in the recycling bin.
You gotta try it!
Upcycling and repurposing may sound like technical terms but they are very easy (and may we say, very fulfilling) to do with everyday objects. Here are some ideas for you to try.
- Artist @swapna_namboodiri upcycles plastic bottles and turns it into art.
Source: Swapna Namboodiri Upcycled Art
- Turning bottles into planters, bird feeders, pencil boxes, organizers, and candle holders (glass ones).
Source: Savvy Housekeeping
- Using old tissue boxes and bag dispensers or memo dispenser.
- Use toilet paper rolls to make these simple cable organizers
-Using denim to create totes bags, accessories, pouches… we can go on.
- Turn newspapers, magazines and old maps into bookmarks, covers, tags, or wrapping paper.
- Of course we have some wallet ideas too: You can turn old cassettes and cassette holders into wallet cases like these. You can also send back your Arture accessories so we can recycle and upcycle them into new products.
This list can be never ending, but it’s just to inspire you to see things for more than what they seem to be. Every object has scope to be used better, longer, and more sustainably. Before dropping it in the bin, hop onto Pinterest or Google some ideas. Not only is it sustainable, but it makes for incredibly fun DIY projects. All we got to do is be creative and try.