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Innovations in Recycling Spur Derivatives of Downcycling and Upcycling

Posted Jul 14 2010 8:00am

As I have shared several times, one-way beverage containers, especially plastic water bottles, are very harmful for the environment. Perhaps their worst impact is from discarded bottles which often find their way into the open seas where they gather in one of several swirling garbage patches. In fact, it is difficult to argue that even the most effective recycling campaigns surrounding these poisonous containers can do much good since so much energy is required to convert PET, the most common type of plastic in such bottles, into a reusable alternative.

PET bottles aren’t all bad, though. They are much lighter than glass and can be much more convenient to carry than glass because they generally don’t shatter. Additionally, innovations in recycling have given us materials which are suitable for garments and other textile applications which are significantly softer than their natural counterparts.

For this reason, the Coca-Cola Company, through its partnership with Nike, has succeeded in selling millions of their recycled athletic garments since 2007 with such catchy slogans as Make Your Plastic Fantastic. Although I vehemently support the adoption of 100% organic materials in beverage containers, PET plastic bottles won’t vanish any time soon and it is important to applaud organizations which, finally, after years of prodding, have begun to innovate in their use of recycling.

In the case of the Coca-Cola/Nike garments, the new variation of recycling is called upcycling since the results are applied in more sophisticated or stringent uses than originally. In the case of another fine garment innovator, Patagonia, it is called downcycling because Patagonia also sells textiles made from 100% post consumer materials but PET bottles comprise only a small fraction of the final blend.

As we close the book on the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, just remember that many of the uniforms which took the field were made of 100% recycled fiber, much of it previously used as PET in one-way plastic beverage containers.

Fomenting the Triple Bottom Line

Corbett Kroehler

jpg credit: Coca-Cola Company

jpg credit: Getty Images/Nike

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