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09/14/2011 / thriftomancer

Re- Terminology

Let’s step away from quilting for now and take a moment to talk about the terminology of waste management. (How exciting!)

Never fear, I’m talking about reuse and recycling, not sewage and whatnot. (Although sewage treatment is a fascinating process as well.)

Most people use the terms ‘reuse,’ ‘recycle,’ ‘repurpose,’ ect. interchangeably. However, that’s not quite proper as each of those terms denotes a different type of making new stuff from old stuff-turned-junk. For your edification, the five most common re-lated terms I’ve noticed being misused:

1) Reuse: This refers to taking an old item and using it again for it’s intended purpose. For example, refilling a water bottle from the tap instead of tossing it when you finish and opening a new bottle. The item is usually completely recognizable as what it once was used only as it was originally intended. If you’re taking that empty bottle and using it as a building material to create an insulating airspace inside a wall you are using it again, but that’s not “reuse.” When you get into that, it’s…

2) Repurposed: This is like “reuse” except that the items involved are rarely used in the way originally intended. A good example is this whiskey bottle transformed into a computer case or slicing clothing apart in order to use the fabric in crafts. Repurposing is a semi-hybrid of reuse and recycling as the item isn’t entirely taken apart, but it’s also not what it once was.

3) Recycling: This means taking used and discarded items, breaking them down into their raw materials, then incorporating those materials into new products. The aim is to keep raw materials that can be reclaimed and reused from being thrown out and going to waste in a landfill. It also saves energy by decreasing the need for and thus the amount of new raw materials produced. When recycled, the original item is completely dismantled and (unless the materials are used to make the same thing again, like a paper bag from recycled paper bags) completely unrecognizable as what it once was.

4) Upcycled: This is a subtype of recycling where the recycler takes waste materials and turns them into more valuable raw materials or items. For example, turning used milk jugs and other plastic containers into plastic lumber for use in playgrounds. The lumber has more applications, and thus more value, than used carry-out containers so it’s upcycling. The term’s often used by people who actually mean “repurposed.”

(The other half of the recycling spectrum is downcycling, where raw materials are made into less valuable or inferior quality things. An example would be taking bricks from a demolished building that could possibly be reused and crushing them to gravel for landscaping. The material can still be used, but it would probably have been better off as bricks.)

5) Thrifted: All this means is that the items being reused or repurposed were obtained from a thrift store or other second-hand source as opposed to being generated by the reuser. They didn’t wear out that pair of jeans themselves, but they’ll gladly buy them for a pittance and turn the distressed denim into a funky messenger bag.

Fascinating, isn’t it? (Okay, all right, so it’s just me. Oh well.) Now, my fellow crafters, go forth and use proper terminology!

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One Comment

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  1. Beth / Sep 20 2011 8:10 am

    I liked this post — so I guess my quilts from family clothing are repurposed, right?
    You should check out ‘art for housewives’ (artforhousewives.com I think, better yet, google it). She posts tons of links for recycled, repurposed, reused art.

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