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Contents

Szaky, Tom Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub
Medium 9781626560246

Chapter 6 The Art of Upcycling

Szaky, Tom Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Chapter 6

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© TerraCycle

The key difference between upcycling and reusing waste is that with upcycling the original intention of the object changes. For example, if a painter uses a painted canvas for a new painting, he is reusing the canvas. But if instead that same painter takes the canvas apart, uses the wood to make a frame, and uses the fabric to make a purse—that’s upcycling.

The idea of upcycling isn’t all that new. People have been upcycling for thousands of years. In fact, before the Industrial Revolution (and before processes typically needed for recycling became readily available), reuse and upcycling were common practices. There were no landfills or incinerators to speak of, and the idea of “disposable goods” simply didn’t exist in the way it does today. If your pants wore out, the remaining material could be used as cleaning rags or to make another piece of clothing. If a leg broke off your kitchen table, the wood that originally made the table could be used to make a shelf.

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Chapter 5 The Hierarchy of Waste

Szaky, Tom Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Chapter 5

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From the macro perspective, we see garbage as a phenomenal volume of mixed complex materials and primarily useless outputs whose creation is driven by our chronic consumerism. If we are looking for the true value in garbage, it is best to look at garbage from the micro perspective—a perspective that looks at the makeup of garbage—and dissect what a single piece of garbage really is.

Let’s use the example of a “disposable” coffee cup. First, it is important to make the distinction between a new and a used coffee cup. Both are coffee cups, but one has positive value: a coffee shop would buy a new cup to serve you that venti chai latte. The other cup—the used one—has negative value (a coffee shop would not buy it back from you). Once you’ve indulged in your drink, you will most likely put the cup in a garbage can (as coffee cups are not recyclable in today’s recycling systems due to the plastic coating on the inside), the owner of which will have to pay for that coffee cup to be transported to a nearby landfill or incinerator.

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Chapter 4 The Energy Inherent in Our Waste

Szaky, Tom Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Chapter 4

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From newspapers to hot dogs, all objects have an inherent amount of energy—their “caloric value.” Simply put, caloric value is the amount of energy that is released when a particular thing is burned. Some objects burn at a positive caloric value, including candles, cigarettes, or basically anything that will continue to burn after you put a lighter to it to get it going. This can easily be calculated in a laboratory by measuring the amount of heat that the object releases per gram and subtracting the amount of energy that was used to get the burn going. Objects with a negative caloric value, on the other hand, consume more energy than they produce in the process of burning.

Calories from items with a positive caloric value are exactly the same type that we try to avoid when we go on our annual New Year’s diet. In other words, if you took sugary, buttery, oil-drenched, icing- and sprinkle-topped doughnuts (yum), they would burn much better (giving you more calories) than things like asparagus, celery, apples, and other foods with a negative caloric value.

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Chapter 1 Where the Modern Idea of Garbage Originated

Szaky, Tom Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Chapter 1

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Human refuse—“garbage”—is a modern idea that arose out of our desire to chronically consume stuff that is made from ever more complex, man-made materials.

To outsmart waste we need to eliminate the very idea of waste; to do so we need to understand where the concept of waste came from and what factors brought about its existence.

Why is it that garbage exists in the human system but not more broadly in nature? Nature is a beautiful harmony of systems whereby every system’s output is a useful input for other systems. An acorn that falls from a tree is an important input for a squirrel that eats it. The by-product of that delicious meal—the squirrel’s poop—is an important input for the microbes that consume it. The output of the microbes—rich humus and soil—is in turn the very material from which a new oak tree may grow. Even the carbon dioxide that the squirrel exhales is what that tree may inhale. This cycle is the fundamental reason why life has thrived on our planet for millions of years. It’s like the Ouroboros—the ancient symbol depicting a serpent eating its own tail; in a way, nature truly is a constant cycle of consuming itself.

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