The Rs and the U

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Paper napkins are not recyclableWe have always told, and still are being told, that there are three Rs when it comes to “going green” and that those are “reduce, reuse, recycle” but, in fact, there are more than just those three, or at least there should be. And then there is also the U for upcycle. Recycle should come at the very bottom of the list, and that is why I have put it here.

Reduce: Just use and buy less. Also, obviously, reduce your waste, especially the stuff you send into the waste stream. When it comes to food and food waste use everything and leftovers are used the next day. That's the way our parents and their parents did things. It works, would you believe it. Oh, and guess what, reusable cutlery, plates, cups and such are meant to be washed after use and used again.

Return: Producers should take back what they sell. This is not going to happen very soon, of that we can be certain, even as far as packaging, and over-packaging goes.

Reuse: Almost boring, but we throw too much stuff out too soon. Reuse also must include not just continued use of what we have but reusing and repurposing items of waste such as glass jars and much more. There often is another life for many of so-called waste products.

Repurpose: That is taking reuse to another level in that the product is used for another, often “higher” purpose.

Repair: Fix and mend things rather than replacing them.

Rework: Taking an item of waste and making something new, which could include changing the shape of the original waste product but does not have to be and is akin to upcycling.

Refurbish: This is a little like repair but may go a lot further than just simple repair, that is to say fix and mend.

Refill: In Ontario Canada, 88% of beer bottles are returned to the beer store, washed and refilled; just south of the border in the USA, the number drops to under 5%. In many countries of Europe beer bottles are also returned, washed, sterilized and refilled; alas not in the UK. Apparently, according to government, it was never done in Britain and thus could never work here despite the fact that until the end of the 1970s this was done, last with lemonade bottles and until not so long ago – and in some cases still – with milk bottles.

Rot: Compost what is left over, turning it into valuable nutrients.

Refuse: Simply refuse to accept this crap from the manufacturers any more.

Reducing and reusing also saves money, as do many of the other Rs, aside from being good for the Planet they are good for your wallet and bank balance too. If that isn't an incentive I don't know what ever would be.

And now for the U, even though this one should come well before this stage and that is:

Upcycling: This is the process where (at least) some of the shape and properties of the original waste product are retained and where another useful product is produced from it. Though at times it might also be a decorative item or a piece of art.

Upcycling ideally, however, should be about turning an item of waste into a useful item and product rather than a work of “art”. Although there are times when making artworks out of such waste is the only answer to throwing it and that is still better than doing that.

Recycle: Yes, I have put recycling at the very bottom of the list, and not just of the Rs because of the way recycling, at least commercial recycling, generally, works. The problem with recycling is that it, actually, destroys the “waste” product and more often than not this product is not recycled but downcycled.

Glass is a prime example here where in the majority of instances, aside from being broken into fragments anyway in the first case, it is ground down to make road aggregate, a glass sand, rather than new glass. In other words they are turning it almost into the material that glass is made from in the first place, namely sand. But, as all the colors are being mixed together it is not possible to make new glass products from them, or so they say. Why not make multicolored glass tumblers and such?

Many other “waste” products in commercial recycling also are downcycled rather than properly recycled into what they originally were, hence recycling should always be the very last resort to turn to when everything else has failed. But, for some unexplainable reason, there is no infrastructure there for a proper reuse and upcycling economy, so to speak, and everyone concentrates in commercial recycling on what actually is downcycling.

That is why upcycling has to become a main part of the equation also and especially on a commercial level, from small independent craftspeople to SMEs as recycling does recycle very little and mostly downcycles the materials. This may be good, to some extent, for the large operators and their shareholders but not for the Planet.

Some of us may have already seen the little gadget and “trick” about turning PET bottles into string that makes for an extremely strong rope. There is potential in small and larger scale recycling or upcycling of such bottles (yes, in this instance the original shape is not retained) and using the material thus garnered to make ropes, but also woven products such as mats, and others. And that is just via one simple method.

Just some food for thought, maybe.

© 2017