Can You Do Zero Waste Upcycling?

Zero Waste is an extraordinarily lofty goal. And we know that upcycling is a great way to reduce your waste. But can you upcycle your way to Zero Waste?

There is currently no known way to upcycle enough to completely eliminate your waste footprint. So far, the ability to achieve Zero waste is limited by what you can upcycle. There are upcycle projects, however, that leave zero waste for that specific project.

But why can’t we get to Zero Waste through upcycling? Is it worth even trying to upcycle if it’s so limited?

Zero Waste and Upcycling

First of all, as humans, it’s very important we do our best to take care of the planet we live on. And if we can reduce or eliminate any amount of waste we produce, we should do our best to do that.

Just because something is limited in its reach doesn’t mean that reach is unimportant. The more you upcycle (as well as reduce, reuse, and recycle), the smaller your waste footprint on the planet becomes. And that’s a win.

Okay, I’m off my soapbox now. Let’s talk about why it’s still impossible to upcycle your way to complete Zero Waste.

The issue with upcycling your way to Zero Waste is that what and how you upcycle plays a role in how much waste you produce. In other words, some items just can’t really be effectively upcycled and some projects require you to dispose of some of your material.

So no matter how hard you try to use that weird corner of tape that came on that product packaging of the item you order–you just might not be able to. There are some things that are just trash that can’t be redesigned to be something else.

Fortunately that number is small and most things that you end up throwing away can actually be used in some form or fashion for something else.

The other issue is that some upcycle projects still produce waste. Maybe not as much waste, but a little bit. You may have been considering throwing away a pair of jeans, but you find a way to turn it into a handbag instead. Odds are you’ll cut off and dispose of some of the fabric.

Even if you make multiple things out of that pair of jeans, you’ll still have to throw away some frays and unusable rags.

These two issues are currently what stops people from being able to reach complete Zero Waste with just upcycling

Is Zero Waste Possible in the First Place?

From the research I’ve done (and I’ve followed some people that have done their darnedest), no one has been able to 100% Zero Waste. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, necessarily. But I haven’t seen anyone do it.

I’ve see some people and communities come close. I’ve seen 80-90% Zero Waste, but never really 100%.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, and it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. It is sure difficult now, but with advances in technology, it might not be so difficult in the future. And maybe there are lifestyle changes that can be made now that can make us truly Zero Waste–I just don’t know of any.

It’s More About Reducing than Eliminating

But just because Zero Waste is (or seems) impossible right now, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to get to.

In fact, the whole idea behind Zero Waste is to reduce our waste footprint on the planet. There is so much trash that ends up in landfills that doesn’t need to be there. Each time something is put in a landfill needlessly, something else has to be created with resources to replace it.

In other words, even if we never reached Zero Waste, but we cut our waste by 80%, that’s still a WHOLE lot less that ends up in landfills, and it’s a really good step forward.

So just because it’s tough, or even impossible, it doesn’t mean that we can’t make an impact. And upcycling is an awesome way to make that kind of impact.

An added benefit to upcycling is that it doesn’t need to be processed in a recycling plant, which saves resources from the earth as well.

Zero Waste and Recycling

Some people will say that recycling actually isn’t progress toward Zero Waste, but rather it’s a delay of waste. In this sense, upcycling is (or will be) the only path to Zero Waste.

The reason it’s not considered waste elimination to recycle is that materials can only be recycled a certain amount of times before they themselves need to be discarded because of material decay.

Basically, a plastic bottle can only be recycled a few times before it needs to be discarded like other non-recyclable items.

The point of upcycling, though, is that an item doesn’t end up in the trash can or recycle bin in the first place. Instead, you keep it out of a bucket and make something new with something old.

That truly does become Zero Waste because it creates a new product without having to use resources to break the old one down to a usable material.

So in your quest to reach Zero Waste, always try and upcycle before you recycle. But for sure avoid trash when you can recycle.

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