Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Green Term of the Week - Downcycling

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.

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Allison said...

I love you Green Term of the Week topics! They have been very helpful.
This week's term helps us to understand how important it is to buy the Klean Kanteens, Sigg or any other eco drink bottles. They are not only better for the environment but save money in the long run. Depending on how often you transport your drinks and how many plastic bottles you purchase, I calculated it takes only 3-6 months to make up the cost of buying these bottles (about $14) as oppose to buying the cases of plastic water bottles (about $5).

Robin Shreeves said...

Allison - glad you find this helpful. That's my goal for this blog.

I would love one of those funky SIGG bottles, but I'm afraid I'd loose it. We still use reusable plastic bottles that we've had for a few years when we need to take water somewhere (I know, they aren't that great, but they already were in the house before I was aware of all of this).

If someone could point me to an inexpensive, say around $5, safe reusable bottle, I'd be all over it!

Allison said...

I am a big cheap-o and buying the Sigg bottles was very hard. But I took the plunge and even bought my 7 year old daughter one. She lost her Nintendo DS (Santa brought it, he isn't green) but hasn't lost her pretty SIGG bottle-yet. Mine has a dent in it now but that just makes it unique.

Robin Shreeves said...

Santa brought our kids each another Webkinz after we had told them they could only have two each. What's with that guy?

BagInspiration said...

I love learning new terms. I hadn't heard about downcycling before. Some of those plastic bottles end up being great bags on my website I agree that we need to stop production of them altogether but at least there are ways to limit the number in the landfills.