If you are old enough to remember when milk was only sold in glass bottles, you probably remember when consumer recycling first appeared on the horizon. It was the 1970s. The green movement was just getting its feet wet. Some 50 years later we are still reminded of the need to recycle. Repurposing is also on the table these days.
Is there a difference between recycling and repurposing? Absolutely. And by the way, the difference is not merely semantic. It also affects the quality of the material in question. If you would like to know more, keep reading. This post will focus primarily on recycling and repurposing plastics.
Recycling is the process of taking unwanted material and breaking it down in order to recover usable raw materials. For example, recycling consumer electronics reduces things like phones and computers to chunks of metal, plastic, and wire. But not every component in a given product can be recycled.
Recycling industrial plastics is another matter. Take plastic buckets, for example. They are recycled through a process of chipping and shredding. Whole plastic buckets are reduced to raw pellets, plastic regrind, etc.
Industrial plastic recycling is fairly simple and easy to do, explains recycling specialist Seraphim Plastics. It is pretty cost-effective as well. The one downside is that every cycle reduces the quality of the recycled material. This is why companies that purchase regrind from Seraphim generally don’t use it straight up. They mix it with virgin material.
Repurposing is the process of taking an object and finding another use for it. When you re-purpose, you don’t break the object down into its raw materials. You use it as-is with little or no modifications. To illustrate, let us talk plastic buckets again. Instead of selling them to a recycler as scrap, a company could use them around the office as waste bins.
In recent years, we have developed a new term: ‘upcycling’. Some people see it as a cousin of repurposing. When you upcycle, you are taking an unwanted material or object and modifying it to make it better. The modified material or object is then put to another use.
A company could upcycle plastic buckets by cleaning them, painting them, and fitting them with irrigation systems. Then they could be used as planters around the company’s property. Upcycling is similar to repurposing in that the recycled material does not lose any of its quality or integrity.
The Same Goal for Both
The wonderful thing about both recycling and repurposing is that they share a common goal. That goal is to reduce waste by putting materials to use elsewhere. Recycling and repurposing have the same goal, but different means of achieving that goal.
Eliminating waste is a noble goal well worth pursuing. Waste represents unwanted material we have to dispose of. And far too often, disposal takes the form of sending waste to landfills. We only have so much land we can fill with our garbage. So it behooves us to keep as much waste out of landfills as possible.
Unfortunately, some types of waste are impractical for both recycling and repurposing. That’s the case for many kinds of plastics. But there are two categories of plastics that are easily recycled: industrial plastics and PET bottles. It makes sense to recycle them as often as possible.
Recycling and repurposing involve different processes. However, their goals are the same. It is all about throwing away less and reusing more. It isn’t always easy to do but recycling and repurposing are worth it when you consider how effectively they contribute to reducing waste.