Voyager "Year of Hell":

JANEWAY: It's beautiful.

CHAKOTAY: Nineteenth century, mechanical movement. It's a replica of the chronometer worn by Captain Cray of the British Navy, His ship was hit by a typhoon in the Pacific. Everyone back in England thought they were killed, but eight months later Cray sailed his ship into London harbour. There wasn't much left of it, a few planks, half a sail, but he got his crew home.

JANEWAY: I appreciate the sentiment, but I can't keep this. Recycle it. We can't afford to waste energy on nonessentials.

CHAKOTAY: Kathryn, I replicated this months ago. I've been saving it. I wanted you to have it.

JANEWAY: That watch represents a meal, a hypospray, or a pair of boots. It could mean the difference between life and death one day.

Wouldn't' it take energy to recycle something? If all they're looking for is raw materials, meaning matter, there's tons of wreckage all over the place. If all Janeway needed was metal which is what the watch is made of it was all around here. I was confused by this concept. Is replicated material special in some way once it's completed?

How does "recycling" this watch in some way benefit them?

  • 3
    I'd have to go dig up references to confirm but I assumed that Star Trek tech was capable of efficiently converting matter to energy and back. I'm 99% sure the material it's made of is irrelevant, it's only the raw matter that ... uh, matters.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 17:41
  • 2
    You can sometimes gain energy by breaking a material down, converting the potential energy in chemical bonds into some other form of energy, like when you burn wood to turn water into steam which can power a turbine. But as you say "there's tons of wreckage all over the place", I don't know why feeding that watch back to the replication systems would generate any more energy than feeding an equivalent amount of metal they just found somewhere. Maybe Janeway just wants to discourage using the replicators for "frivolous" reasons even if the watch has a negligible effect on their energy budget.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 18:22
  • @MichaelEdenfield as I stated they had tons of metal laying around in the ship unused, as well as the many ships they had destroyed. Why would recycling this make any difference?
    – JMFB
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 20:44
  • @Hypnosifl but he made it before they had issues with the replicator and the time travel. So when he did it there wasn't depleted resources.
    – JMFB
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 20:47
  • 4
    Braga and Menosky were out of ideas... Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 3:37

4 Answers 4


The replicator is a fancy 3D printer. It has a stock of standard raw material (base atoms) that it changes and arranges on demand. Nothing special about its products. But it has consumables, energy and raw material.

The use of the word energy here has a few meanings. First it could have been she misspoke, having meant to say material instead of energy. The meaning would stay the same. The second would be energy as in time and effort. Janeway thinks it's frivolous compared to the current needs. The third does mean energy. While the warp reactor can provide enough energy in normal circumstances, it does cost dilithium crystal stress. Recycling it might not help much, but Janeway would never let any crew member, let alone a senior officer, break an important rule during that time. Survival comes first. She's setting an example.

Since Voyager at this time is rationing replicator usage because they can't replenish supplies or undergo routine maintenance. Basically the only reason people try Neelix cooking.

  • 2
    At this point in the show, Neelix's cooking is supposedly not dreadful.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 19:03
  • 3
    That sounds like Stockholm Syndrome talking
    – user16696
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 19:04
  • 1
    The first two answers you gave don't exactly feel right, kind of conjecture. The thirrd I don't understand. There's tons of scrap metal all over the place. They had defeated a bunch of ships if they just needed metal. How does it set an example to recycle a gift that was made months before they had any issues? Chakotay wasn't setting a bad example. An ounce of metal doesn't seem particularly valuable. How would recycling it make any difference, which was really my question.
    – JMFB
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 20:43
  • Maybe the watch is powered by a small warp reactor and they want the deuterium back for the ship?
    – BBlake
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 21:12

Non-canon (as far as I know) but the only reasonable explanation is that replicated matter is not the same as ordinary matter at the quantum level. A replicator can "recycle" replicated matter, turning it back into energy - but cannot do the same to ordinary matter.

(If a replicator could turn ordinary matter directly into energy, and back into a different form of matter, there would have been no reason for rationing.)

Compare this answer.

  • No, what that means is that replicated items are general copies, not exact copies.
    – user16696
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 2:33
  • @HarryJohnston +1 I was thinking the same thing, maybe there's something different about replicated items that have a different energy signature or something like that. Otherwise it just doesn't make sense to me. Most of us understand basic science. We understand E=MC2, for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction, etc. Obviously the replicators can't make something more advance then they are, or something that would have more energy then they put out, etc. A couple ounces of metal mattering just doesn't make any sense to me, unless there's something special about replicated matter
    – JMFB
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 3:18

Not correct, but good guesses.

According to the Star Trek the Next Generation Technical Manual, the replicators work off of "raw replicator matter" which is essentially simple molecules that can be reformed into anything desired. Using normal matter, such as stuff from the recycling bay, cost more energy to use the replicators.

Using this recorded fact as a basis, I can only presume that a replicated meal, even non-organic "raw matter" to make a watch, was at its core this same string of simple molecules that can easily be reversed into its raw form.

Capt. J. Harker, USS Twilight

  • 1
    Can you edit your answer to more clearly say why recycling the watch results in an increase in energy.?
    – Blackwood
    Commented Jan 29, 2017 at 4:39
  • I'd point out here that they were talking about an Intrepid Class vessel's replicators here, which would be rather different on a technical level than the replicators on a Galaxy Class vessel, given the time between their design and construction.
    – Stese
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 9:23
  • @Stese - was this said on the show? I don't see any reason why they should be different...
    – komodosp
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 9:26
  • @colmde Not in my awareness, but it does stand to reason technologies would advance in the passage of time. Desides, my not-very-well-made point was that user77681 references the TNG Manual, which wouldn't give details on a ship not yet created in-universe.
    – Stese
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 9:37

Perhaps the metal fragments around the ship were better left for repairs of the ship. and I assume they would collect “raw materials” from planets for this, but who knows if it was accessible or if Janeway could assume they were

  • Whilst a nice theory do you have any evidence for this?
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Jun 7, 2019 at 18:26

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