UPCYCLE

up - cy - cle

verb

reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original. 

THE CURRENT INDUSTRY 

Carbon Footprint 

The apparel and textile industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and remains the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil. The industry’s immense footprint extends beyond the use of raw materials. In 2015, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from textiles production totalled 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent, more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

Waste Generation 

A consumer today owns 300% more clothes than a generation ago, and on average wears clothing 7 times before getting rid of it. Fast fashion has created a business model based on the artificial creation of short term trends combined with clothing that doesn't last - ​what other industries call “planned obsolescence.” This cheap mentality has come devastatingly high costs for the environment and the people making clothing. 150 billion garments are produced annually, enough to provide 20 new garments to every person on the planet, every year. 26 billion lbs. of textiles are trashed each year and only 15% of these are recovered for recycling. Less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing, representing a loss of more than USD 100 billion worth of materials each year.

Water Usage

 

The textile industry is one of the top 3 water wasting industries, and the 2nd largest polluter of freshwater resources on the planet. Textiles production uses around 93 billion cubic metres of water annually, contributing to problems in some water-scarce regions: 8,500 liters of water are needed to produce a pair of jeans and 2,600 to produce one single t-shirt.

Toxic Chemicals ​& Dyes

A quarter of the chemicals produced in the world are used in textiles. Unsafe use of agricultural chemicals has severe health impacts on workers in the field and on ecosystems that receive excess doses that runoff from farms. While there is little data on the volume of substances of concern used across the industry, it is recognised that textile production discharges high volumes of water containing hazardous chemicals into the environment. As an example, 20% of industrial water pollution globally is attributable to the dyeing and treatment of textiles.

Synthetic Fibers & Microplastics

 

In order to get cheap prices, the industry has shifted to very cheap materials: synthetics. Primarily, polyester. Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester fiber, now the most commonly used fiber in our clothing. Taking more than 200 years to decompose.Today, polyester is in more than 50% clothing production. From 1980 to today, we have gone from producing 5 million metric tons of polyester to 70 million metric tons. Fast fashion is fueled by this disastrous material. A non-biodegradable, non-breathable, energy intensive fiber - identified as a major contributor to the issue of microplastics entering the ocean, which is a growing concern because of the associated negative environmental and health implications. It has been estimated that around half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres shed during the washing of plastic-based textiles such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic end up in the ocean annually. ​​​​

REDESIGNING THE INDUSTRY

Upcycling is a philosophy and a design principle that includes 'recycling' but goes beyond this system by taking a 'whole system' approach to the vast flow of resources and waste through human society. It redesigns the current, one-way linear industrial system into a circular economy, and it is modeled on nature's successful strategies​.

A circular system is restorative and regenerative by design, aiming to keep materials and components at their highest form of use and value at all times. It preserves and enhances natural resources, optimizes their yield, and minimizes system risks by managing renewable sources and flows. Existing materials are given more value, not less. A continuous positive design and development cycle, essential to minimize environmental impact and decrease the amount of waste that goes into landfills. 

For every kilogram of upcycled textile waste, we save up to 20,000 liters of water.

For every ton of upcycled textiles, 20 tons of CO2 are prevented from entering the atmosphere.

Sustainable design has the power to eliminate the use of chemicals and dyes, as well as significant energy usage reduction.

Circular design and Upcycling is a powerful entry point into a critique of excessive consumption, waste, corporate irresponsibility, and the fundamental causes of environmental destruction. 

Sources:

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (McDonough & Braungart, 2008)

The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability-Designing for Abundance ((McDonough & Braungart, 2013)

Zero Waste International Alliance Organization

Ellen Macarthur Foundation

World Wildlife Fund

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