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is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of lesser quality and reduced functionality. The goal of downcycling is to prevent wasting potentially useful materials, reduce consumption of fresh raw materials, reduce energy usage, reduce air pollution
Air pollution is the introduction of chemicals, particulate matter, or biological materials that cause harm or discomfort to humans or other living organisms, or cause damage to the natural environment or built environment, into the atmosphere....
and water pollution
Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies . Water pollution occurs when pollutants are discharged directly or indirectly into water bodies without adequate treatment to remove harmful compounds....
, and lower greenhouse gas
A greenhouse gas is a gas in an atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone...
emissions (though re-use of tainted toxic chemicals for other purposes can have the opposite effect) as compared to virgin production. A clear example is plastic recycling
Plastic recycling is the process of recovering scrap or waste plastics and reprocessing the material into useful products, sometimes completely different in form from their original state. For instance, this could mean melting down soft drink bottles and then casting them as plastic chairs and tables...
, which turns the material into lower grade plastic
A plastic material is any of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic solids used in the manufacture of industrial products. Plastics are typically polymers of high molecular mass, and may contain other substances to improve performance and/or reduce production costs...
The term downcycling
was used by Reiner Pilz in an interview by Thornton Kay of Salvo in 1994 .
We talked about the impending EU Demolition Waste Streams directive. "Recycling, he said, "I call it downcycling. They smash bricks, they smash everything. What we need is upcycling where old products are given more value not less." He despairs of the German situation and recalls the supply of a large quantity of reclaimed woodblock from an English supplier for a contract in Nuremberg while just down the road a load of similar blocks was scrapped. In the road outside his premises, was the result of the Germans' demolition waste recycling. It was a pinky looking aggregate with pieces of handmade brick, old tiles and discernible parts of useful old items mixed with crushed concrete. Is this the future for Europe?
The term downcycling
was also used by William McDonough
William Andrews McDonough is an American architect, founding principal of , co-founder of with German chemist Michael Braungart as well as co-author of also with Braungart...
and Michael Braungart
Michael Braungart is a German chemist who advocates that humans can reduce our negative environmental impact by redesigning industrial production processes...
in their 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things is a 2002 non-fiction book by German chemist Michael Braungart and U.S. architect William McDonough. It is a manifesto detailing how to achieve their Cradle to Cradle Design model. It calls for a radical change in industry: a switch from a...
As we have noted, most recycling is actually downcycling; it reduces the quality of a material over time. When plastics other than those found in soda and water bottles are recycled, they are mixed with different plastics to produce a hybrid of lower quality, which is then molded into something amorphous and cheap, such as a park bench or a speed bump... Aluminum is another valuable but constantly downcycled material. The typical soda can consists of two kinds of aluminum: the walls are composed of aluminum, manganese alloy with some magnesium, plus coatings and paint, while the harder top is aluminum magnesium alloy. In conventional recycling these materials are melted together, resulting in a weaker—and less useful—product.
- lower reusability (in comparison with "classic" recycling)
- lower amount of iterations inside the cycle
- with each iteration of downcycling:
- quality of downcycled things deteriorates
- their values diminishes
- requirements, standards or level of expectations (demanded by appropriate respective norms) back off
- after the last iteration the product has been downcycled to the par of general waste
- Breaking apart a computer hard drive to harvest the strong rare earth magnet set within.
- Increasing the recycle number of plastic recyclables (see above)
- Recycling used office paper into toilet paper
Toilet paper is a soft paper product used to maintain personal hygiene after human defecation or urination. However, it can also be used for other purposes such as blowing one's nose when one has a cold or absorbing common spills around the house, although paper towels are more used for the latter...
- Transferring disposable batteries to lower-power devices (e.g. taking batteries from a digital camera to use in a TV remote)
- Reusing defective car batteries for lower-power applications.
- Reusing towels for other cleaning environments. (Or cutting up old clothes to use as cleaning rags.)
- Oftentimes, when people upcycle, individually downcycled parts are often involved.
- Finding alternate purposes for obsolete technology. Such as using an older computer to play music while a newer computer is available for everyday purposes. Older MP3 players can play a similar role.
- Keeping an older vehicle on a commercial utility fleet as an "extra" vehicle in case the newer ones need routine maintenance. However the older vehicle needs less maintenance since it's used less.
- Water Bottle to Plastic Salad Dressing Bottle
- Plastic Salad Dressing Bottle to Quart of Milk
- Quart of Milk to Plastic Bag
- Print Paper to Cardboard
- Print Paper to Toilet Paper
- Crushing a reusable brick to create a very much cheaper recycled aggregate substitute. Apart from the loss of value there is also a loss of energy. The embodied energy of the old brick is destroyed when it is crushed, and additional process energy is usually needed to crush it. So recycled brick aggregate can be a doubly downcycled product, not only losing monetary value but also losing energy and increasing CO2 emissions. This is typical of much downcycling.
Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or a higher environmental value....
- Planned obsolescence
Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence in industrial design is a policy of deliberately planning or designing a product with a limited useful life, so it will become obsolete or nonfunctional after a certain period of time...
- Forward compatibility
Forward compatibility or upward compatibility is a compatibility concept for systems design, as e.g. backward compatibility. Forward compatibility aims at the ability of a design to gracefully accept input intended for later versions of itself...
- Backward compatibility
In the context of telecommunications and computing, a device or technology is said to be backward or downward compatible if it can work with input generated by an older device...