Definitely downcycle

This week’s #STOTW downcycling

Reduce, reuse, recycle—it’s a term we have all heard and know well. It stresses the importance of reducing consumption, reusing items when possible, and recycling what can’t be reduced or reused. The order of the “three r’s” is actually very important in terms of resource recovery.

What most people refer to as recycling actually isn’t recycling at all, but instead downcycling. Downcycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials or products of lesser quality. Many everyday products that we think are recycled are actually being downcycled. Most plastic, paper, and glass is downcycled into lower quality products. For example, writing paper that is “recycled” is actually being downcycled into printer paper. That printer paper can then be downcycled into cardboard, which can then be downcycled into toilet paper. Downcycling, and even recycling, also requires energy, water, and other resources which is one reason why reducing and reusing should be prioritized over recycling.


The other type of recycling is upcycling. Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials into a new product. The material is not broken down at all, but rather repurposed for another product. Upcycling is very similar to reusing. The only difference is that upcycling involves altering the shape or form of the material so it can be used for something else. An example of upcycling might be using old t-shirts to make a quilt. Reusing old t-shirts as rags is an example of reusing. So the next time you plan on recycling something, think about if you are actually downcycling or upcycling the product and always try and reduce and reuse first.


Written by Alyssa Lemire, Class of 2017

Photos: Public domain from Pixabay



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