Most of us are pretty familiar with the “3 Rs”: reduce, reuse, recycle. But upcycling is still a newer idea for many of us.
Oxford Dictionaries defines upcycle this way: “Reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.”
This is different from recycling, where materials are broken down and made into products of similar or even lesser value - which is why it’s sometimes referred to as “downcycling".
Juicy Green Mom has a great explainer here.
How does it help the planet?
Using existing unwanted or discarded materials reduces consumption of new raw materials. Transforming raw materials into a form ready to be used in the products we buy often needs a lot of energy, water, or harmful chemicals - whether it’s fabric, plastic, wood, rubber, or nearly anything else consumer products are made of.
A bag made of seatbelts? Or tires?
With upcycling, the possibilities are nearly endless. Seatbelts can be woven into a fashionable new bag. Used tires can have new life as a backpack. An old skateboard can become earrings or a beautiful bowl. Discarded cement bags can be transformed into a sturdy and funky laptop case.
There are plenty of DIY options too. Making beeswax wraps is an on-trend way to upcycle smaller scraps of fabric leftover from other projects, reducing plastic waste from single-use plastic cling wrap.
Upcycling is just one of the ways we can reduce the impact of our consumption habits on the planet. It’s exciting to see new ideas constantly emerging from creative craftspeople and entrepreneurs around the world who look at unwanted items and see new possibilities.
Plastic is everywhere
We have a global plastic addiction and the numbers are staggering. For example, 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute worldwide.
Like these bottles, about half the plastics we consume are meant to be used just once .
As we talked about last month, there are positive developments in recycling plastic waste into all kinds of different products, including clothing and shoes.
But recycling doesn’t even come close to solving our plastic problem. Less than 10% of plastic we use actually gets recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, or worse, in our environment: rivers, lakes and oceans. According to the UN, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste goes into the world’s oceans each year – the equivalent of a dump truck emptying into the ocean each minute.
What’s more, much of this waste breaks down in the environment, creating “microplastics” (tiny bits of plastic less than 5 mm in size). Scientists are finding these tiny pieces—sometimes microscopic—are getting into, well, absolutely everything—water, marine life, even the air. That’s right, we’re likely eating, drinking, and even breathing tiny plastic particles.
Of course, the implications for both environmental and human health are devastating. Marine life is especially impacted, often mistaking plastic objects in the ocean for food.
So what can we do?
As consumers, there’s a lot we can do to reduce our single-use plastic consumption. Check out the infographic from UN Environment's #CleanSeas campaign at the top of this post.
Every bit counts
Plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental challenges facing the planet. Addressing it is going to require concerted efforts by corporations and governments worldwide to implement new approaches to dramatically reduce reliance on single-use plastic and improve management and recycling. But, by making even small changes in our daily lives, we can all make a difference.
As we’ve mentioned before on this site, plastic waste is one of the biggest challenges facing our planet today. Using recycled materials is just one of the ways we can reduce the environmental impact when we buy a new pair of shoes. The brands we partner with, Renovare and Oni, both use recycled PET plastic water bottles in their shoes.
The bottles are broken down and transformed into a felt-like textile used in the shoes we carry. Other footwear brands are using recycled plastics too, like this Stella McCartney collaboration with Adidas that uses a yarn made from ocean plastics.
Plastic bottles can also be transformed into polyester fabric for use in clothing (here are some examples from North Face, Recover Brands and Girlfriend Collective). Here are some other fashion brands working to incorporate recycled plastics into their designs.
Using recycled materials is just one of the ways leaders in the footwear and apparel industries are taking steps to provide consumers with more sustainable options. The next time you’re looking for a new pair of shoes or t-shirt, check the label and consider choosing an option that contains recycled materials.