When you dutifully put your plastic bottles into your recycling bin each week, do you know what happens to them after they've been picked up? Do they get turned into other plastic bottles? In fact they don't. They are usually downcycled into plastic lumber or carpet padding. For a plastic bottle to be truly recycled it would have to become another plastic bottle.
Downcycling occurs when materials that are being recycled lose viability or value during the process and cannot be recycled back into the same product. One web site described it like making of a photo copy of a photo copy. The original is the best quality. The first photo copy looses some quality. Each successive copy looses even more quality. That is what happens in the downcycling process.
Although downcycling is beneficial because it keeps things out of landfills (for a time at least - the plastic lumber or carpet padding made from bottles will most likely end up there some day), it doesn't stop the need for more and more resources to be used to make more plastic bottles.
So chances are, when you buy something in a plastic bottle, it's new plastic that you're purchasing. That new plastic took natural resources to create. Sure, you'll recycle it when you're done with it, but its creation was still harmful to the environment. That's why it's a good idea to curb your plastic bottle consumption.
Plastic bottles aren't the only thing that are downcycled.
Next week we'll look at the other end of the recycling spectrum - upcycling.