What is the difference between Recycle, Reuse, Repurpose, Upcycle and others?
Zero Waste: is a philosophy with the goal to minimise waste that ends up in incinerators or landfills. It is a holistic pursuit that attempts to be systematic and scalable aiming for long term permanent solutions.
Recycling: when you break a material down so that it can be used to make something new. “The action or process of converting waste into reusable material.” Recycling results in reduced demand for new material because the recycled material can be used instead. This is typically a scalable way to address waste meaning it can be done for large quantities of waste material typically by municipalities. Runnymede Borough Council collect the recyclables and Surrey County Council are responsible for where the recyclables go.
Reuse / Reusable: repeatedly using an item without significant alteration of the original (eg jars can be re-used – maybe you want to clean it and remove the label but you are not doing any major mods). This is usually an individual effort except for some deposit systems and bottle re-use programs.
Repurpose: using a material in a way not originally intended but without significant alteration. This is usually not scalable ie it is typically done on a project basis. Eg using an old yoghurt container as a pot for plants. There is a limit to how many yoghurt containers can be used in this way.
Upcycling: turning a discarded product into something useful / of higher quality. Crafting with waste materials can be included in this. Note that this is rarely scalable – meaning it is usually done on a one-off basis and is not an effective solution for waste reduction because it is time consuming and there is little demand for the end product. Also a lot of upcycling requires the use of new materials as part of the project (paints, glues, some new parts, etc). Craft projects are generally not effective at waste reduction though they can sometimes be used to good effect as an artistic statement about waste.
Incineration: is sometimes referred to in the media as “recycling” as in “waste is recycled into energy” “Swedes recycle nearly 100 per cent of their household waste”. This is NOT recycling – it destroys the material, it does not recover it which is an essential part of recycling.