Recycling vs. Reusing: The Difference


Photo by yokieyok @

The world collectively creates approximately two billion tons of waste per year. We toss so many things in the trash that should not even be thrown out. We buy so much that we do not need, and it just goes to waste. How many of us are guilty of throwing out perfectly good items to replace them with the next “new” thing? It is possible to do better by discarding our unwanted stuff the right way. But do we want to recycle or reuse? Is there a difference between recycling and reusing?

 When something is recycled, it is broken down into its base materials and made into something entirely new. When it is reused, it stays in its current state for either the same or a different purpose.

With the amount of waste that we run through, there is no reason why we should not be able to furnish and provide for many households, businesses, and families. For the purposes of this article, something is considered “waste” when it has not been used to its full potential and has been discarded, thrown away, or “wasted.” There is so much that can be done with just a little effort and work.


The act of recycling brings items back into circulation by turning them back into their raw materials. Recyclable items are broken down and then turned into a completely brand-new product. With this, raw materials and resources can be saved for other purposes. We can use what we already have and help the earth sustain itself.

The Cost of Recycling

When you genuinely investigate, you see that small amounts of recycling can cost a lot of money to collect. It costs approximately $150 per ton to collect small recycling bins. Unfortunately, without the proper amount of people recycling, it causes more cost than normal trash. However, if more people had better access to recycling, the price per pound could go down and become a more sustainable option.

Resources Required to Recycle

When dealing with natural resources such as trees, recycling is one of the most effective conservation methods. Recycling does use energy and power; however, not as much as some may say. While there are certain costs associated with reusing materials, they are not nearly as numerous as in manufacturing.

While some say that this process costs double, it actually costs only about one and a half times more to make even more recycled products in comparison to getting it from its most raw state. Paper and wood are a great example of this. Making recycled paper from used paper is much cheaper than making it from a tree.

Recycling Paper and Wood

To use this as an example, in order to make paper, you must start with the wood. This is where trees, the very things that provide oxygen and filter the air, are torn down and processed into paper. Meanwhile, we skip the cutting, transportation, and making it into the paper if we already have recycled paper pulp.

This cuts so much cost in just those few steps that we would have otherwise missed. With recycling, we simply bring back the paper that we have already made and used, we bring it back down to prefinished mode and make something else. We do not have to cut any more trees, use any more fuel, or take up any more energy to make paper.

Creating Jobs Through Recycling

While we are trying to save the earth, we are also trying to provide jobs and keep money flowing into the economy. If properly implemented, recycling can help create a little over a million jobs by the year 2030. With this, it is stated that these places of employment can include processing plants, waste management agencies, and more. So many different outlets and machines are going to need operators.

Pollution Could Be Reduced Through Recycling

While, in some cases, it does take energy and resources to reproduce products, it also saves the initial cost of production if the items were created from scratch. Recycling reduces mining or drilling that may take place, which in turn reduces air and water pollution that is caused by coal, gas, and oil. Over half of the world’s pollution can be reduced by simply recycling. When we recycle, we can help animals, plants, and ourselves with the filtered air we breathe.

How Much Can One Person Recycle?

In a world that produces just over three million tons of trash a day, there are a lot of opportunities to look around and see what could instead be recycled. This amount of trash is equal to almost four and a half pounds of trash per person per day. Only thirty-four percent of that is recycled. However, with a little bit of knowledge and accessibility, that problem could potentially be rectified.

Why Separate Recycling Bins?

Many times, recyclable goods are mixed with trash, which makes it impossible to recycle. In many cases, if there is a wrong item in a bin, the entire bin is thrown into the landfill, which wastes the whole bin. In most cases, it causes more issues than anything if materials get mixed.

This can cause damage to equipment and can also pose a safety hazard to employees involved in the recycling process. Because of this, if a bin is seen as hazardous in any way, it will automatically be thrown in the landfill.

Recycling for the Environment

There is no doubt that the recycling process can positively impact the environment. Not only does it help stop the wasting of resources such as trees, freshwater, or anything else through mining and manufacturing, but also the energy that mining and manufacturing requires through coal and fuel. The reduction in these factors makes a huge difference to the environment.

Manufacturers Love Recycling

Many people look at manufacturers as part of the problem, but did you know that most manufacturers want their materials back? Not only would it save them money, but it would also help save on pollution while still providing for their customers’ needs. The bottom line is that the longer our resources last, the more money can be made.


The term reuse, when referring to a product or waste, is the ability to use an object as it is without needing any extra processing or treatment. In some cases, things can be used for the same purpose or something completely different. As long as it is in good condition, anything can be reused. Even if you must do some light repair or give it a new paint job, there is always a way to reuse something and reduce waste.

The Cost of Reusing

The good news is that reusing something does not cost anyone any money. It can, however, make more money if it is something that can be repaired or repainted and then resold. The only cost when reusing materials is the labor and products used to make a piece usable.

By far, this method uses fewer resources like energy and labor than those of recycling or completely remanufacturing a whole new piece from scratch. This also helps eliminate pollution in the air that is created when materials are mined and manufactured.

Economic Side of Reusing Waste

The economy gets a nice breath of fresh air when waste is reused. Many groups and cooperative living situations share items and supplies that they could use to benefit their homes and their families. In some cases, these groups can also help businesses by taking some of their materials off of their hands like cooking oil or other wastes that would normally cost money to dispose of.

The Effect on Waste and Pollution by Reusing

Waste and pollution dramatically reduce to near nothing when you reuse materials. There are no collection fees or manufacturing costs to break the materials back down and remake them into something else. It saves on energy, water, and resources that are typically used in material production.

Ways to Reuse Waste

There are several ways to reuse waste, but it is up to you to make a conscious decision in what you do. Many times, humans want things that are easy in the moment instead of something that is going to add a little bit more work. However, this little bit of extra work could help save the earth.

Buy Reusable

Many times, we grab things such as disposable bottles, napkins, or disposable cutlery and plates. We can easily reduce that little bit if we honestly chose stuff that we could wash and reuse. We can find things such as water bottles that can be refilled, cloth napkins, or reusable to-go cups.

Make Repairs

Whatever you have currently, if you can repair it, you do not have to buy new ones. This also helps with lowering pollution in the production of another item. Whether it is furniture or clothing, there is a chance it can be repaired and used a bit longer.

Sell or Trade

If you find that you simply do not have a use for something, you can always find it another home. You can either give it away to someone who could use it, or you could take it to a thrift shop. If you are looking to get your money back, you can look into selling it yourself, whether on social media or at a yard sale. There are so many options instead of just throwing it away.


There are many ideas posted all over the internet on DIY projects where they take several pieces of furniture or something that is seen as “trash” and turn it into a work of art or solid piece of furniture for another purpose. There is always something that can be done, even with things such as toilet paper rolls and plastic. You can even find instructions on how to make yourself a reusable shopping bag out of several single-use plastic bags.

Reusable Items

We tend to throw away a lot of items. So many of these things can become reusable and even stylish with a little bit of creativity. If you do not have the time to do DIY projects, some people will purchase those items for projects or visions that they may want to bring to life.

Wine Corks

Wine corks are made from several different types of material; however, true cork is made from the bark of a tree such as a Cork Oak. Cork is pretty resistant to water and pressure. It can be turned into so many things, such as new placemats or added flare to a vase. These can also be used to be made into rugs and display boards. There is no end to the ideas that can come to life.


While so many use body washes, some still use bar soap, which holds a lot of potential for waste. In this case, you can collect the soap slivers and eventually make a whole other bar of soap, reduce it to liquid soap, or even laundry detergent in a pinch. This can come in handy on a rainy day. You can also use them as animal and insect deterrents for your garden.


There are some foods that you can reuse as well. Some foods can be reused in ways that you may not be aware of. Bacon grease can be reused for cooking in place of oil or butter and believe it or not, can be used as a candle. Food scraps such as celery bottoms, green onion bottoms, and garlic can be regrown again and used for future meals. Eggshells, coffee grounds, and tea leaves can be used as compost to help provide nutrients for growing food.


Old clothing can be turned into new things such as bags, towels, and more. In some cases, they can be made into things like purses and wallets. If you have fallen into a rut where you have clothing that you do not want, you can give it away to someone else or take it to a local company that works with those in need. This way, you can make sure your items are not being wasted and are instead helping someone else.

Egg Cartons

Most of us get eggs every week. However, what do you do with the carton when you have eaten all of the eggs? In most cases, you can collect the cartons and give them to farmers that provide farm fresh eggs. This helps them cut costs as well since they do not have to buy egg cartons. They also can be used to start seedlings, as a painting palette, or as packing material.

Odd-Ball Stuff

Even your odd-ball stuff, the stuff that you would not think of, can be reused. How many compact discs have you listened to lately? Chances are, most of your music is on your phone or iPod. So, you can reuse your discs for projects, ornaments, or even keeping pests away as they move quickly, with lots of lights, and help scare away pests and animals. Rubber bands and a lot of other tiny items that you have lying around can also be reused for a wide variety of purposes.

Glass Jars and Bottles

Glass jars and bottles can be reused for a ton of different things. Many people use glass jars and bottles to decorate for events such as weddings and showers. They can also be used as candle containers. In some cases, many jars can be used for spices or even things like hardware and garage organization. There are many DIY instructions for different uses that they can serve.

Plastic Containers

Many times, food comes in hard plastic food containers. Believe it or not, these containers can be reused. While some people want a uniform look with Tupper-wear bowls in their cabinets, many times, you can do the same thing with the food containers that you get with your groceries.

Types of Waste

There are many types of waste. So much is not recycled correctly or is not reused as it could be. Our landfills are filled with things that could be reused or at least parted out to fix something else. We do not need all of this junk. Most of it is caused by convenience or price.

Electronic Waste

Electronic waste encompasses all of the technological devices that we throw away. Instead of turning them in to be recycled, refurbished, or reused in some way, we tend to throw out computers, phones, and other technological devices.

Many of these devices include batteries that can become toxic to the earth along with many other chemicals that could be potentially dangerous and even flammable if placed in certain conditions. This can pose a threat to the human species and their health as well as many animals involved as these things can contain lead, arsenic, and more.

Chemical Waste

Many times, we pour things out or throw bottles out that still contain cleaners and chemicals. The problem with this is that they do not stay in that bottle and tend to leak out and get into the soil. This causes it to become toxic, if it is not already, or create the potential to be under certain circumstances. Chemicals can kill organisms, animals, plants, and other things that are vital to our survival. These chemicals can even kill crops and poison food if not properly taken care of and handled.

Day to Day Waste

Our day to day waste consists of everything that we throw in a trash can that we use. This can come in the form of cans, packaging, broken items, and so much more. We have daily care products that sometimes get used, and other times just get thrown out. Then we have all of the kitchen waste that accumulates as well. Many times, the majority of our trash can be reused for something else, but we simply do not take the time to do it.

How Waste Affects Our Lives

Waste can affect our lives in many ways. Unfortunately, we are bringing children into this while still adding to our billions of tons of garbage every day. With this waste, we are exposing ourselves and our children to hazards. Certain circumstances can cause exposure to diseases and poisoning. Not only are we exposing ourselves, but we are also affecting our food.

Recycle or Reuse?

Before throwing something out, you need to ask yourself some questions. You must evaluate and find a purpose for your waste. We are thinking of the future, and we want to make a change. This is not only for our health but also for our world’s health and our future generations. This is why it is so important to start with small steps now.

What Material Is It?

It is important to determine what type of material something is before you try to recycle or reuse it. If it is food scraps, it is probably best in compost. However, in some cases, you can regrow your kitchen scraps.

If you have chemicals in your possession, it is important to dispose of them properly or find someone else who can use them appropriately. If you have plastics, packaging, or everyday waste, you can see if you can use it for something else or put it in the recycle bin.

Can it Serve More Purposes?

Before trying to recycle or throw something out, ask yourself if it can serve more purposes. Can it serve the same kind of purpose, or can it be made into something else? If it is furniture and something you simply do not want, maybe someone else would like to have it or could use it.

If it is something you can create art with, then you can make it serve that purpose. Maybe it is something that can be used for another task or it just needs a little fixing. Not only does this save you money, but you also get the chance to save the world from waste. Maybe it can be donated to someone else who can give it a new lease on life.

Is It Recyclable?

So, after you have figured out what material it is and whether or not it has served a purpose and you still haven’t found a place for it, you need to ask yourself if it can be recycled. If it can, make sure the materials are separated, and you have followed recycling materials guides, then take them to your local recycling area.

What Qualifies as True Trash?

True trash, garbage, and waste is the ultimate destruction of an item to where it is unable to be reused, recycled, or anything of that sort. It serves no absolute purpose and cannot be turned into something else. If something has been brought down to such destruction that nothing can be done with it, then it is considered true trash.

What Would Happen If…

So, what would happen if we all decided to start recycling right now? What if everybody started doing everything we could to reduce waste and the damage that we are all doing to our homes? The more than 2,000 landfills that are currently across the country will begin shrinking. The manufactured items that we do have would last longer and could be made into many different things that are useful. Our resources alone would be much more valuable and not pollute the world.

How Would Earth React?

If we started recycling and reusing, we would be giving our earth a break. Forests are being taken down, rivers depleted, and our ecosystems, in general, are being destroyed currently. So, if we started recycling and reusing, we would begin restoring a balance between nature and human activity.

Things would begin to grow a bit fuller, livelier, and the world would start cleaning itself. The trees can filter the air since there will be less pollution in the air from manufacturing new things. The earth has a remarkable ability to heal itself. We can use the old stuff, remake it into new, and in the end, produce less pollution.

Final Thoughts

The ultimate reason for recycling and reusing is to help better our earth so that our future generations can have it a bit longer without a lot of bad things happening, such as climate change. At this moment, we are looking at our current, convenient way of living. With that, we are damaging the earth.

If we can find more uses for the things we currently have, we can make a huge difference in our day to day lives and the environment we live in. We will also be making a big difference for the other ecosystems that live amongst us along with the plants that help feed us. Make the choice today for a better tomorrow.

Leave a Reply