What Really IS Recycling?

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One of the most popular Beyond Recycling activities is Papermaking. During this hands-on lesson, students get the chance to recycle scrap paper into new paper, which can then be cut and decorated into things like cards, bookmarks, tree decorations, and journal covers.

The difference between reusing and recycling is sometime surprisingly challenging to understand, and making paper in class helps to solidify what it means to recycle.

Reducing, the first and most important of the 3 R’s, is straight forward: to use less. Reusing means to use again and again, and recycling is to make into something new. Our multi-streamed waste and recycling systems blur the lines between the later two. Consider how glass bottles get washed and sanitized before being refilled. We call this recycling, when it is actually reusing. The key part of defining recycling, is “something new”. Recycling occurs when an object is broken down into small pieces, often even down to the raw materials, then put back together in a different way. Think about old tires that get turned into park benches.

Our in-class paper cycling process looks like:

1: ripping scrap paper into small pieces

2: blending it with water and corn starch

3: pouring it over a filter and shaping it

4: sponging out excess water

5: rolling it flat to remove even more water and speed up the drying time

The blender step is the key to recycling paper, as it breaks down the starting product and allows the creation of something new. Repeating the process over and over helps to solidify what it means to recycle, and that it’s not without it’s own set of challenges. Recycling is great, but so are reusing and reducing!