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Upcycling – eco-friendly capitalism

Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or a higher environmental value. It reduces the consumption of new raw materials when creating new products, and is contrary to downcycling, which is the other half of the recycling process which involves converting materials and products into new materials into new materials of lesser quality.

The UK-based company Worn Again, voted ‘number one eco brand’ by The Independent in 2008, uses the combination of aesthetic and environmental capital by upcycling corporate waste materials into new, design-led products.

Worn Again has, for example, turned the raincoats, jackets and train seat antimacassars of high-speed train service company Eurostar into bespoke train managers’ bags for Eurostar staff (see image), taking decommissioned textiles and returning them to the company as new products.

A percentage of Worn Again’s income goes to Anti-Apathy, a registered charity which promotes and supports people who take creative and innovative approaches to social and environmental issues.

But why bother? According to a UK report on Maximising the Reuse & Recycling of UK Clothing & Textiles, 98% of corporatewear garments in the UK currently end up in landfill, equivalent to 10,000 tonnes per annum, every tonne of discarded textiles reused saves 20 tonnes of C02 from entering the atmosphere, and Reuse & Recycling outperform best in terms of energy and resource use compared to other forms of Waste Management.

But there is also a business side to it. Like Worn Again other companies have created their own niche markets by making consumer products from post-consumer materials. Like Relevé Design which sells upcycled lighting, reMade USA which produces upcycled leather bags, or TerraCycle which, among other things, makes children’s backpacks from used Capri-Sun drink pouches and produces insulated lunch boxes made from candy wrappers.

If you know of any other corporate upcycling examples, feel free to share your examples here!

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Posted in | Ecobusiness, Environmental sustainability, Social entrepreneurship, Social innovations, Sustainable business
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