Recycling: Educate yourself and others on what recycles and composts in your area. Every day at work I find food and other non-recyclable items in the recycling bin, which often means laziness and or lack of knowledge. If you are unclear on what recycles, just ask!
Precycling is the precursor to recycling, and it's one of the best solutions to reduce all around waste, including plastic. Precycling means coming up with creative and effective solutions to prevent waste. Here are some of the ways we can precycle: Limiting our purchases to things that we really need, buying in bulk which can eliminate excess plastic packaging, investing in products that are made to last and designed to be repaired, and sharing our things with others instead of buying new things individually.
Upcycling or repurposing means transforming materials that would otherwise be thrown away into something that has a new established value and purpose. Unlike downcyling, as you will come to find, upcycling gives something equal or greater value. Glass is an example of a material that can be upcycled into the same quality of glass as its original product. A wine bottle can become another wine bottle. This is not so with plastic.
So what happens to our plastics once they get sorted and baled at the recycling center?! The municipality will have to find a buyer for the plastic. That buyer is most likely China. I live in a small city of approx. 60,000 people, and all of our plastics are shipped to China, where they are burned with little to no emission regulation, or they are downcycled in to other plastic products (shirts, laundry baskets, carpets, etc...) and then shipped back to the United States. Not very sustainable. To add to this environmental catastrophe, not all recyclable plastic is recycled. Less than 10% of the plastic thrown into our recycling bins in the United States in 2012 was recycled. If we continue to misuse plastic, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. To make matters more grim, there is a huge dip in the plastics market right now, which means that when recycling centers can't find a buyer, the plastic is incinerated or landfilled.
The term downcycling is generally used when talking about the lifecycle of plastics. For example, when pallets of "recycled" PET plastic water bottles are shipped to China, they will be downcycled into a new product like a shirt or a carpet. Those items will be shipped back to the United States and sold. When the shirt and the carpet wear out, they cannot be melted back into plastic water bottles. Their life cycle is pretty much over; they will be landfilled. In other words, unlike glass, the majority of plastic cannot be recycled back into its original product.
Plastic Is Forever:
Plastic is not biodegradable. It doesn't go away--it's forever. We just can no longer see some of it because it photodegrades into tiny little pieces called, micro-plastic.