Thursday, August 2, 2012

What is "Down-cycle" ?

Last week I was talking about what it means to up-cycle, and this week I wanted to explore down-cycling. As it turns out, I probably should have started with down-cycling because it isn’t as cool and glamorous as up-cycling.

So, now that we all have discovered the awesome projects and cool things we can do with materials to up-cycle them; let’s see what down-cycle means.  Many of us have been down-cycling for a while and just didn’t know the new-fangled term for it. Down-cycling means to take a product or material and turn it into something of lesser value, and in some cases, compromise the integrity of the material so that it can’t be turned back into the original product.

Taking this, we look at what our recycled materials are made back into and we realize that many of those materials are being down-cycled. I guess this is why recycling is the last of the 3 R’s; still important but not the best first choice. Take plastic bottles for an example. When plastic bottles make their recycling journey, they are made into small plastic pellets. Due to many rules and regulations, not many are made back into a food-grade plastic. (There is an up and coming market to tackle that and make rPET just as an FYI.) The destination for many plastic bottles is carpet and clothing. Though these products have a much longer usable lifespan than a bottle, they are not easily recycled again. As the textile recycling industry gains more speed and becomes more widespread, I think this will change. For now, though, this is a down-cycle for plastic bottles. Other examples for down-cycling are when paper is made into tissues and paper towels, and when glass is made into insulation or part of the components for asphalt. 
Now that we know what this term means and the ways in which products are down-cycled, maybe we can begin a more in-depth discussion about buyer choice and the types of products and packaging in the market.

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