How to think about recycling and upcycling

May 27, 2016

We all want a world free from the problems of pollution.  But how do we balance this with still wanting life’s necessities and luxuries? One person’s actions aren’t going to save the world. We think because of how large and unappealing the situation is, there’s little we can do. This is the wrong attitude. Instead of viewing it in extremes – “do nothing” or “save the world” – we should rather take a more practical approach.

How to save the planet

Consider the notion of recycling and upcycling.

Everyone knows about recycling, to the point where governments have provided avenues for everyone to participate. Whether it’s through active initiatives or providing bins, recycling opportunities are everywhere.

Indeed, places like scrapyards make extensive use of recycling processes. This benefits them as a business, but also helps the environment. As Earth911 notes: “Scrap metal exports are one of the largest in the US and by recycling metals, we reduce the amount of ore drilling throughout the world.”

There’s no need to acquire more material for products, when much of it can be sourced from recycling spaces.

It’s not merely richer countries involved in recycling. Even in places as far as Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa, we see exciting initiatives.

For example, All Women Recycling focuses on empowering women through working with recycling materials. This incredible business creates a “versatile and trendy… eco-friendly gift box recycled from plastic… bottles.”

These are made in the hundreds every day, sent to many local retailers and exported all over the world. As the site points out:

“Women who have been unemployed for longer than 2 years are taught the skills needed to create these boxes, while at the same time learning business management, life and sales skill.”

The benefits are thus both for the planet and individual women.

Why upcycling?

Speaking of individual actions, we should also consider upcycling. Primarily, upcycling concerns the reuse of material without degrading its quality and composition for its next use.

As Treecon notes:

“[upcycling] reduces the need for new virgin material to be harvested as feedstock for new generations of product. In the case of plastic, this means less oil wells drilled. For metals, less mountains mined. For paper, less trees felled. All around this means less expended energy.”

Of course not all materials or processes can do this. However, many can and should be be used in upcycling.

It’s these sorts of interventions any of us can consider that help the planet. We aren’t saving the world, but we can do our part to make it better.

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