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, www.Plushbeds.com  

1 comment

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Phil (anonymous)

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

Written in January 2013

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  • Posted on Jan. 19, 2013. Listed in:

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