Recycling is a misnomer

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Commercial recycling really has a completely wrong name. It should be called “downcycling” really in that it destroys the “product” to, if we are lucky, make a new one.

upcycle_0Upcycling, on the other hand, creates something of higher value and use out of the products, using mostly waste packaging and such but also other items considered waste.

In commercial recycling, in downcycling, the form of the product is being destroyed as with a glass bottle or jar being crushed and ground down, while in upcycling the form is retained and wanted, in fact.

Many of us “obediently” sort our rubbish and place the “recyclables” into the appropriate containers every day blissfully unaware of what those glass bottles and jars, etc., are turned into – if at all – at the end of their journey.

As far as glass bottles and jars are concerned most people believe, mistakenly, that those are made into new bottles and jars. This is true but for a very small proportion of them. Most of them, at great energy consumption, are simply crushed up and ground down and made into aggregate for road building. In other words, most glass is downcycled back into silicate, sand, and basically the same stuff from which it is made.

Rather a waste of effort and resources, if you ask me. Yes, it is still better – much better – than ending up in the landfill but best would be if glass bottles, and indeed jars, would go back to be refilled and thus reused.

Other recyclables also fare not much better, sort of.

While plastic containers – and not all types of plastics can be recycled (downcycled) anyway – are turned back into polymer pellets with which to make new plastic products the process is rather energy hungry.

Note also that I said “with which” as regards to the polymer and not “from which” as it requires are 50%-70% new virgin polymer to be added to the secondary grade one recovered, and things are similar as regards to paper.

It all looks and sounds great at first glance and on the surface until one looks deeper into the matter. It is then when the flaws in our “waste management” efforts are exposed and those efforts are found wanting.

Thus with all our personal waste management efforts at home and at work the first step after actual reduction should be reuse and not recycling. Recycling, as I have said many times already in other articles on this matter, can only be the final step; it must never be the first thought in our minds as to what to do with our “waste” ever and there is no such thing either as “throwing it away” as there is no “away”.

All around the co-called “developed” world, however, people have been brainwashed and are being brainwashed by the mantra that we MUST recycle more by getting more “recyclables” to the municipal recycling, but it is a false story to a great degree that we are being sold so we can go on consuming as we do – and, as far as they are concerned more still – as long as we, in the end, nicely recycle it all. This is all smoke and mirrors and total bull dust.

Recycling, be means of high energy usage, downcycles the “waste” items and it is mostly not a new bottle or jar that is made from the glass you send for recycling, and plastic is a story all of its own as the recycling process causes the material to lose strength and thus recycled plastic in new products is often less than 40%. there is NO such thing as 100% recycled plastic, which is to say no plastic product “made from recycled plastic” has ever more than 40% recycled content; if that high even. A lot of claims are being made as to recycling must be filed under “greenwash”, I am afraid.

Thus we really all must become reusers and upcyclers to deal with our “waste” in a much more positive manner and we must come to see our “waste” as raw materials rather from which to make things than as something to be tossed out. And we must use the products that we have much longer than many of us do at the present time. Furthermore, by buying wisely we must, via our wallets, send a clear message to manufacturers that we demand an end to “built-in obsolescence” and that we demand that products be made repairable again.

Also we must all become makers again, and also repairers, rather than mere consumers and producers of waste. Becoming makers is fairly easy, becoming repairers, however, is not so as, more often than not, products today are designed in such a way that that they cannot even be opened by mere mortals such as us. This must also be changed and it can be changed by us demanding products made in such a way that they can be repaired again easily.

We have to seriously reconsider the way we manage our waste and the first step must be to look, after reduction of the amount of waste that we generate, as to how we can reuse and upcycle those things rather than sending them to the recycling bin.

© 2014