We all know the three R’s — reduce, reuse and recycle. Most of us have made recycling part of our daily lives, but honestly, how often do we think about the other two? Last Thursday in Daly’s, students were given the opportunity to learn more about reusing, also referred to as “upcycling,” at this month’s Eco-Rep Info Session. Upcycling has seen an increase in use because of its current marketability and the lowered cost of reused materials.
Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or higher environmental value. This is different from traditional recycling, or “downcycling,” which is the process of taking waste materials like plastics and turning them into new products of lesser value and/or quality. For example, during the recycling process of plastics other than those used to create bottles, many different types of plastics are mixed together, resulting in a hybrid. This hybrid is a lower quality plastic, which is then molded into something amorphous and cheap, such as a park bench or a speed bump. Upcycling is better because, unlike recycling, it puts more value on old products, not less. This prevents usable materials from going to waste and thus reducing the consumption of virgin raw materials. The process also greatly reduces energy consumption and air and water pollution created during production. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t recycle, but rather we should upcycle as much as possible and recycle the rest.
We can participate in upcycling by donating our used goods to be reused. This includes taking used clothes and furniture to places such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army. You can also trade in your gently used clothing at stores like Plato’s Closet for cash. Returning your textbooks to the bookstore at the end of the semester is a great way to encourage the cycle. Next year, try buying used or using services such as Chegg.com.
The company TerraCycle, based in Trenton, was the brainchild of Tom Szaky. TerraCycle collects items through its “brigades” that, in exchange for sending in waste packaging, donates money to schools and charities. They then turn the waste packaging from companies such as Mars Inc. and Wrigley’s into new, cool, innovative products such as handbags, portable speakers, cell phone holders and school supplies. Check out terracycle.net for ways to donate your “trash” or visit the location in Palmer Square, Princeton. You can also upcycle at home by taking an old T-shirt and making a new pillow case or using old mason jars as drinking glasses. For more ideas and ways to upcycle, check out www.instructables.com/green where there are tons of instructions on how to do everything from turning an old belt into a cool cuff or making a new necklace from a coke can.
– Lauren Clabaugh