Maybe you recycle your heart out and have excised the word trash from your vocabulary, but does that mean you aren't sending anything to the landfill? How could that be, if you're a perfect recycler who can put everything into the recycling bin, that you could still be sending stuff to the landfill? What about "pre-consumer waste"? That's the waste you do not see, because it is generated for you before you buy any product. Pre-consumer "waste" is the excess material thrown away by factory workers. Often that material is perfectly usable, and upcycling aims to put a use to this material.
An example of an upcycling company is Looptworks. We had the opportunity to hear Scott Hamlin, CEO of Looptworks, speak at the recent GreenBiz conference in San Francisco. His personal background was in the traditional clothing manufacturing industry, until he got fed up with the rampant waste and quit his job vowing to find a better way to do it.
According to Hamlin, the average garment factory throws away 60,000 pounds of perfectly good usable material every week. This is things like thread, buttons, zippers, fabric, all of which is simply left over after a production run. This perfectly good material could be made into clothing but for a variety of reasons cannot be used for the purpose for which it was bought. Maybe the designer changed the design, or any of a thousand other reasons.
Upcycling is the process of converting what would be waste materials, or useless products, into some other useful product.
To put this into context consider a couple Permaculture principles:
- Produce no waste
- Use and value renewables
- Turn problems into solutions
The problem was the "waste" Hamlin saw being produced. The solution he developed was to create a company, Looptworks, that "rescues" the perfectly good materials garment factories would otherwise throw away, and instead make clothing with those materials.
Along the way Looptworks had to change the words used to describe these materials. Instead of calling it "waste" material, they call it "excess" material, because the word "waste" has the wrong meaning for their purpose.
The result is a business whose purpose is to solve the problem of excess ("waste") materials at garment factories. By doing so they create an almost renewable system.
This is important because of the quantity of virgin material consumed in manufacturing clothing. Looptworks estimates that 15% of all fabric ends up on the cutting room floor, 85% of which ends up in landfills, adding up to a million tons of material a year.
They manufacture a variety of clothing and "gear" (laptop sleeves, backpacks, etc). The Looptworks products can be bought either via their website, or through a partner store.