The Fine Lines Between Recycling, Reusing, and Repurposing

We market what we do as industrial plastic recycling. We purchase commercial plastic waste that we can transform into regrind material. We then sell that regrind to manufacturers. We have no problem labeling our activities as recycling. But you could call what we do reusing or repurposing. That’s because, in our case, the lines between the three are fine enough to accommodate overlapping.

It is safe to say that what we do with commercial plastic waste contains elements of all three. In whichever way anyone might choose to classify our business really doesn’t matter as long as we have customers looking to buy regrind and clients happy to sell us their scrap plastic. And by the way, we purchase scrap plastic from seven states including Tennessee, Arkansas, and Indiana.

Recycling Is More Recovery

Recycling was the first term we used to describe the process of turning waste into usable products. It was a catch-all phrase that worked well for a few decades. But as recycling processes improved and we found ourselves capable of taking more things out of the waste stream, new terms were necessary.

Today, recycling is more recovery than anything else. Perhaps you recycle lithium-ion batteries. Not every component in a typical battery is useful. So, recyclers recover what is usable and discard the rest. The same thing is applied to recycling electronics, scrap metal, and even consumer plastics.

We recycle industrial plastic waste in the sense that we recover usable material that would otherwise go to a landfill. We also change the form of the material we recover. What comes into our plant as pieces of scrap plastic leaves as regrind.

Reusing Is Separate from Recovery

When our industry talks about reusing, we are referring to a process generally considered separate from recovery. Reused materials are not broken down for the purposes of separating components. They are not transformed into new products. Rather, they are simply cleaned and sent out to be used again.

A glass soda bottle offers the perfect example. Decades ago, glass bottles were returned to beverage bottlers who would clean and disinfect them before putting them back on the production line. Glass bottles could be endlessly reused until they finally cracked or shattered.

You could make the case that what we do encapsulates some form of reuse. Even though we chop and grind industrial plastic waste to create regrind material, the plastic is reused to make new plastic pieces. We do not recover plastic components at the molecular level. Some recyclers do, particularly in the carbon fiber space.

Repurposing Is Finding New Uses

Finally, repurposing is the process of finding new uses for recyclable products. You do this in your own home. For example, you might purchase cold cuts packaged in a small, plastic tub. Once the cold cuts are gone, you use that tub to store leftovers in the fridge. You have repurposed it. Likewise for the plastic tubs that now hold your spare change and batteries.

Again, you could make the case that industrial plastic recycling is a way of repurposing plastic waste. By grinding it down and turning it into new plastic products, our industry is finding new uses for the same material simply by changing its shape.

Sticking with the strictest definition of terms indicates that our business is a recycling business. We buy scrap plastic, turn it into regrind, and sell it to manufacturers who mix it with virgin plastic to make new products. However, you can make the case that what we do overlaps with reusing and repurposing. In the end, all three have the same goal.