Waste as resource

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Often when “waste was resource” is being mentioned and discussed it is about recycling this waste into something else by breaking it down, by destroying it, basically, first or, as in the case with electronics where it is all about the recovery of rare metals such as gold, and others, and such.

reuse glass jars for storageWe must look closer, however, when it comes to “waste as resource” – especially packaging waste – as a resource for us directly and that is what we shall be talking and considering here, namely a different perspective of “waste as resource”, and that is waste as a resource for the reuser, the upcycler and repurposer, for the craftsperson with a mind of making something out of this material rather than giving it over to be first broken down and then remade into new products, requiring virgin materials and lots of energy.

People believe, because they are told so by the powers-that-be with a vested interest, that they are doing good for the Planet if they nicely put all their “recyclables”, as those items of waste are now referred to, into the separate bins so that the municipality can then collect those “recyclables” and send to have new stuff made.

The fact is that the municipality collects and makes money out of those so-called recyclables by selling those on to middlemen who then ship them overseas, more often than not to China, where they are reprocessed, mixed with virgin materials and then made into new products. The plastic recyclables that is, in the main. The glass goes to make – no, not new bottles in most cases – a kind of sand in that the broken bottles are ground up and that's it.

The energy usage of recycling, while not as high as when using exclusively virgin raw materials, is still extremely high and reuse, repurposing and upcycling is a much better use of waste as a resource than is recycling. Thus we should always first look at the reuse, repurposing and upcycling possibilities of each and every item of waste that comes our way, and that includes also the things that are tossed by others into the countryside, for instance, or lost and not retrieved.

Reuse uses zero energy with the exception of that of our brain by thinking what we can use this or that for. Repurposing falls about into the same league of zero energy, while upcycling and reworking requires some energy input, often in the form of our own only. The latter two also, at times, require the combination of more than one item of “waste” together to make the one that one wants to create. And often some new materials are also required, such as nails, screws, glue, etc. and in some instances that means there has been energy used to also produce those additional, new, materials. On the other hand there are times when those nails and screws can come from reclaimed sources.

Some upcylers make products that can be used, and, in my opinion, those are best, while others make “art” and while this may be interesting it may not have much use. But, then again, that is neither here nor there as long as the materials are reused rather than tossed, even into the recycling when another purpose can be found for them. After all waste is a resource and ideally the items should be reused or upcycled without the need to destroy the original shape, the way it is done in recycling.

In fact, as far as glass bottles are concerned, unless they can be upcycled into “H2O-to-go” bottles, that is to say reusable water bottles, they should always be going back to the source and cleaned and refilled, as used to be the case not so long ago when we still had deposit on glass bottles and all were returnable. During the Second World War it was not just glass bottles that were being reused but also almost all glass jars were collected, cleaned and refilled and considering that fact that there is but a small number of different mouth sizes of glass jars it could and should be done again today.

In lieu of such possibilities, however, we must find different reuse, repurpose and upcycling possibilities for those and other items of waste rather than tossing it, without a second thought, into the recycling stream. While the latter is better, obviously, than those things going into the trash can and ultimately to landfill it still is a waste of resources.

Reuse, repurposing and upcycling must be the first thought and most of that can be done – nay all of it – by ourselves if we but think further than recycling.

© 2014