Good, Better, Best: Upcycled, Recycled, Biodegradable?

Amber Merton


Our society has come a long way (but still has much further to go) in living more sustainably. We’ve developed ways and means of getting the best usage out of many of the products that we produce, along with being more environmentally-friendly and better caretakers of Mother Earth (some more than others, of course). Among the methods that have been created to beautify our surroundings and to make sure they are sustained and reach their fullest potential are the three practices of upcycling, recycling, and biodegradation.

Is there one method that is nobler than the rest?recycle

Upcycling as defined by Terracycle is using every aspect of waste as value. This is very much a mentality of waste not, want not. Use the product you have, and then instead of discarding the packaging or its other remnants, keep it and make constructive use of it again. It’s kind of like the concept of reincarnation. The used product comes back to life in another capacity. It keeps the material out of the landfill and furthers the utility of the item in question. But something that is upcycled speaks nothing of the creation of the product in the first place. Was it originally created sustainably? If it was not (made from petrochemicals for example), does that mean that it’s less noble than say, recycling? And with an item that is upcycled, how many iterations of reincarnation can it go through before it reaches the end of the line in its utility? Usually not many.

Recycling is another useful method of reducing waste. The difference between upcycling and recycling is usually that not every part or portion of the material being recycled is used to create something “new” with it, as it is goes through a process in which it is use to create a similar material (but not the same as it once was). Is recycling a little more attractive or better than upcycling because it may be able to go through more iterations of being reincarnated, or in other words be recycled several times before it reaches the end of its utility? But, on the other hand, the original product isn’t usually fully recycled, more often just partially. At least with upcycling the whole product is used over again.

biodegradation via biocentrum  Then there’s biodegradation, which is where a product that is made from organic materials breaks down naturally by means of bacteria or other microorganisms. Plastics do not biodegrade, metal doesn’t biodegrade. Only things that are plant-based, animal-based, or mineral-based are readily biodegradable. But is it best to shoot for the goal that the highest percentage of products possible be made organically? Is this (or should it be) the holy grail of what we consume? Certainly not everything useful and meaningful can be made from organic products, but we can strike a balance.

 In a perfect world everything we produce would be able to be upcycled, recycled, AND biodegrade. We’d be able to use something, use it again as something else, be able to recycle it into something yet again, and then when it finally ran its full useful course it would biodegrade. But for now, the real point is knowing which one to implement and when because we don’t live in a perfect world (or anything close to it).

If we can be innovative enough to find uses to upcycle (and manufacture) things thatupcycling are most appropriately upcycled, recycle things that are most appropriately recycled, and use organically-produced products (that are healthier overall and do the least damage to the environment) as much as possible, it would be silly to ask for anything more.

Amber Merton is an eco-enthusiast and writes for the natural latex mattress manufacture,  

1 comment

If you see any unhelpful comments, please let us know immediately.

Phil (anonymous)

Don't forger repair and reuse! Why is it becoming waste in the first place?

Written in January 2013

Add a comment
  • to get your picture next to your comment (not a member yet?).
  • Posted on Jan. 19, 2013. Listed in:

    1 comment

    Pledge to do these related actions

    Bring your own take-out containers, 1°

    Pledge to bring your own reusable containers to restaurants to take home your leftovers. We ...

    Green Home Certification, 21°

    We offer guidance and assistance to owners, contractors, designers in the design and construction of ...

    Synthetic Oils, 11°

    With advanced SYNTHETIC LUBRICANTS in your car's engine AND transmission you will improve its fuel-efficiency ...

    Follow these related projects

    Recycling and Home Remodeling

    Pleasonton,CA, United States

    Ride to Sustain - 4000 miles of Sustainable Solutions

    Boston Massachusetts, United States

    Featured Companies & Orgs