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Recycling - Upcycle and Downcycled

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“Say what…???”

That’s what I get when fashion clients approach my creative studio and ask about incorporating some aspect of recycling into their bags and accessories manufacturing process, and I ask in return, “Do you want upcycled materials or downcycled materials…?”

Fyi -If you want to be a well informed conscious consumer, or just want to sound smart to your peers, read up!

Let’s go back to the basics:

What is recycling? The easier definition is that it is a man-powered chemical process to convert waste into re-usable materials. Right now as we speak, we have the technology to recycle an array of waste materials ranging from fabrics of all kinds, PU, metals of all kinds, papers, and plastic bottles just to name a very few.

Photo courtesy of Lush Home

Photo courtesy of Lush Home

The recycling process consists of 2 parts, upcycling and downcycling.

Upcycling is the process where waste materials, such as plastic bottles, are transformed into another material with higher quality and better impact on the environment. In other words upcycling is a creative re-use of discarded materials for something else, such as building a sturdy home out of old scrap metal melted together with other junk to create a new hybrid construction material.

Photo courtesy of Upcycled Zine

Photo courtesy of Upcycled Zine

Downcycling, on the other hand, is a similar conversion of old material into new but in this case, the new hybrid material is usually of lesser quality. The hybrid polymer created out of two old materials may not bond as well, creating surface weakness that may result in structural breakage.

You may have guessed it by now, the defining difference between the two processes is $$$! Anytime you want to use any upcycled materials the unit price will always be more than the downcycled materials. Now you know why the two handbags made out of recycled materials that you bought months ago at $59.99 and $129.99, respectively, only one is still holding up after months of wear and tear. Chances are the $129.99 handbag is made of upcycled material.

Let’s take Everlane’s Renew Collection as a case study. Its mission is to use recycled plastic bottles as renewable materials in their products and packaging so that by 2021 there will be NO new plastic being used in Everlane.

Judging by the information I can find on their website and knowing the standard of quality of their line of products, I can say with confidence that Everlane most likely will work with plastic bottles that have gone through upcycling so that the new material has strongly bonded polymers that will offer higher quality products and healthier impact on the environment.

Photo Courtesy of Everlane

Photo Courtesy of Everlane

Now go out there and be the well informed smarty pants consumer that you are and hold fashion accountable! Everlane and its Renew Collection is only the beginning, but with each step we consumers take by supporting Everlane’s and other fashion companies’ recycling initiatives, it’ll be another firm step in establishing a mindful and responsible fashion-consumer relationship.