Celebrating Earth’s Resources with Creative Reuse and Upcycling
By Margie Suozzo and the DesignX Team
Imagine this. If all people on our precious planet consumed food, clothing, and goods at a rate that Americans consume, we would need more than 5.1 Earths to sustain us. The problem is, we have only one. The products we consume impact people and the planet throughout their lifecycle: from extraction, production, and distribution, to consumption and disposal. Businesses are producing products to maximize profits. Consumers are purchasing to minimize costs. But the costs to the environment and our future are often not included on either side of the equation. Our overconsumption habit is filling up landfills and polluting our air, soil and water. The Newby Island Landfill, where most of your garbage goes, was slated to close in 2025, though a recent permit approval increased the height to which garbage could be piled to 100 feet, extending the landfill’s life. Enter visions of “Wally”, after the humans had escaped the ravaged earth, piling garbage evermore.
So what is the solution?
BUY LESS! LIVE MORE!
Consumers can buy less and reuse and share more.
Buy less. For most things, you probably don’t need it. When you do buy:
Look for products that use circular economy principles on the Cradle to Cradle Certified Registry
Choose durable, quality goods that have a lifetime guarantee or that you know will last a long time
Purchase goods second hand from local and online re-sellers, like Thred-Up and PoshMark.
Organize a clothing swap with friends. Local bloggers, Kanesha Baynard (boldlivingtoday.com), Suzanne Bell (asksuzannebell.com), and friends run an annual Sip and Swap, where one woman’s trash is another’s treasure.
Encourage “repair cafes” in your community. Amateur tinkerers can help extend the life of household appliances, consumer electronics and other products in disrepair. Repair cafes started in the Netherlands but have made their mark in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale.
Participate in the sharing economy. Nextdoor.com and other resources can help make sharing easier for you. Neighbors, more often than not, are willing to lend baby gear, tools, or other “stuff” on a short-term basis.
Many businesses operate on a planned obsolescence model, designing and building products that they know will be obsolete in 3-6 months. Or they produce fast fashion that they know will not be desirable in short order, ensuring that customers will keep coming back for more. But there are excellent examples of companies taking the lead on sustainability through “cradle to cradle” or “circular economy” design, in which manufacturers design products for durability and reuse.
Patagonia: Patagonia focuses on creating quality, durable products that can be repaired and recycled. It backs up this effort with a lifetime guarantee. To “close the loop,” the company created a fleece made from recycled plastic bottles and shared the technology with other manufacturers.
LooptWorks: Looptworks creates products from pre-consumer excess fabric as well as from goods that would otherwise be thrown away. They partner with a range of companies, to secure materials and create ”meaningful, long-lasting and limited edition products.” For example, LooptWorks worked with Southwest Airlines and subsequently Alaska Airlines to repurpose old seat fabric into products such as high-end handbags, duffles and soccer balls.
Thred-Up and PoshMark: Thred-Up and PoshMark don’t produce products but rather provide a platform for users to buy and sell gently-used apparel and accessories online. Products are offered a second life at deep discounts off of retail!
Looptworks creates beautiful luggage and accessories out of excess material. This bag is created from an old airline seat. Source: Looptworks.
REcycling, DOWNcycling, UPcycling!
The triangular recycling symbol is intended to remind us that recycling closes the loop. Materials created with energy and other inputs, once recycled, are put back into the economy as another product. In the ideal world, all products could be recycled into the same products – a plastic bottle becomes a plastic bottle or office paper becomes office paper. But typically the material degrades on recycling, known as downcycling, as a result of contamination or processing. Plastic bottles may become furniture, office paper becomes lower grade paper, and so on.
In contrast, upcycling reuses or re-purposes items, making them better than the originals. In fashion, this often means taking something that doesn’t fit or is stained and refashioning it into another product. Upcycling reuses textiles, that would most likely end up in the trash, in a creative way.
DesignX knows something about upcycling. Founded by Los Altos resident Durga Kavalagunta, DesignX provides afterschool and summer programs in fashion design for kids. Children learn how to ideate, sketch, sew and embellish their own stylish wearable products. Since its inception, DesignX has proudly used post-consumer “waste” fabric, either donated by the community or left over from student projects, for design challenges and small projects.
Creative use of scrap fabrics by DesignX students.
The DesignX team also regularly scours through tons of fabric samples donated by design houses to FabMo, a local non-profit dedicated to fabric and textile recycling. FabMo provides unique, high-end materials, that individuals can rescue and reuse for creative purposes, diverting about 70 tons of material from entering the landfill each year. DesignX students repurpose these designer fabrics converting them to iphone cases, pillow cases, wallets and other accessories.