Our regular readers already know that reusing is a more eco-friendly choice than recycling. A little upgrade to the post-use materials (upcycling) instead of destroying them totally and making a new product (recycling) requires less energy, water and other resources, so it is more beneficial for nature. That’s why many entrepreneurs decide to put their efforts into saving resources that normally go to waste. They see opportunities to make a valuable product where the majority see only rubbish. Let’s hear their stories, and who knows—maybe you’ll start your own upcycling company after this dose of inspiration!
Fast fashion is one of the major contributors to waste generation, plastic pollution and climate change. The industry accounts for 20 to 35 per cent of microplastics flowing into the ocean. It outweighs the carbon emissions of international flights and shipping combined.
The Dhaka Denims company based in Bangladesh tries to reduce the negative impact of fashion by upcycling denim clothes. The two sisters produce bucket hats, masks and various types of bags (purses, slings, totes, duffle bags, pouches, backpacks and laptop cases). They use old denim clothes from family and friends, and fabric scraps from local textile and garment factories, all of which would otherwise end up in landfill. Even zippers and buttons are reused by the brand.
Glass is perfectly recyclable almost everywhere, so why bother upcycling it? The thing is, while glass produced from post-use materials reduces related air pollution by 20% and related water pollution by 50% (when compared to new glass), CO2 and other harmful substances still enter into the environment. Fossil fuels are burnt to melt glass bottles and jars, to transform them into new objects.
But little energy is needed to make glassware from bottles without melting them totally. This is what ReRe:Sklo from Ukraine does with used bottles. Wine, beer and other beverage bottles are washed and baked under 825 C to become original plates. By cutting them, the brand’s crew create glasses, vases and candleholders.
Used glass can also become a great base for conceptual jewellery or home decor items.
Vinyl (or PVC) is toxic to both humans and the environment at every step of its lifecycle. Chlorinated dioxins and furans are formed by a reaction between chlorine, the main component of PVC, and other molecules from the environment. These compounds are highly hazardous for people and other living beings, as well as destroying the ozone layer. These threats make vinyl banners and other PVC products pretty much unrecyclable.
The Mile High WorkShop from the USA repurposes old PVC banners into all kinds of bags. This social enterprise gives a second chance not only to marketing materials, but also to people struggling to find a job.
Other ways to save vinyl banners from landfill include upcycling them into aprons, guitar cases and even plant pots.
Modern sails are mostly made of synthetic non-biodegradable fabric. Seeing as the sails wear out and generally need to be replaced every 7 years, this huge amount of waste becomes troublesome.
At Sails and Canvas in the United Kingdom, used sails get a new lease of life in the form of deckchairs, windbreaks, home decor and bags.
You can find similar enterprises in almost every country which has access to the sea. Countries in which sailing is not widespread may have similar parachute cloth recycling companies.
The negative impact of tyres on the environment starts from the sourcing of materials for their production. Tyres consist of natural rubber, the production of which causes deforestation, and synthetic rubber, which is made from non-renewable fossil fuels. A tyre also includes metal and other materials which makes it a hard-to-recycle product. In general, tyres are one of Earth’s less obvious but very common plastic polluters. They account for 10-28 per cent of overall microplastic waste in the world’s oceans.
The Nigeria-based Cyrus45 Factory brand transforms old tyres into modern furniture. The company, owned by a young female entrepreneur, gets tyres from the sides of the road, dumps and incinerators. Sometimes people bring their old tyres themselves.
Tyres are also used to make flip-flops, doormats, dog beds and even lamps!
While ceramic is supposed to be a relatively eco-friendly material, it takes thousands of years to biodegrade (just remember how well ancient amphoras last). Unwanted pottery can be donated, but cracked items almost always go to landfill because they’re difficult to recycle.
Japanese social enterprise Nozomi Project gives hope for broken pottery. They transform ceramics into beautiful necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings and other jewellery.
Cracked plates, vases and mugs are also used to make planters, tiles and furniture.
As you can see, literally anything can be upcycled and sold. Only your imagination is the limit! Why don’t you break it right now?