Recycling is no panacea, especially when it comes to plastics. We’re bombarded with greenwashed labels shouting the virtues of rPET, and while it’s better than making synthetic polymers from scratch, no matter how carefully you recycle a plastic bottle you’re still left with plastic.
You can also only recycle plastic a handful of times, and each time it degrades in quality, until you’re left with the same end of life options as always - landfill or incineration. At the same time, creating new plastic-free materials from virgin feedstocks is all well and good, but it often requires significant input of natural resources like water, land and energy.
So how about taking the very best from both approaches instead, salvaging leftover, discarded or waste materials and giving them an unexpected second life? The practice of upcycling - an entirely different thing to recycling - has been gaining momentum across multiple industries in recent years. A 2021 study by the Fashion & Textiles journal found that up to 80% of leftover material waste in factories could be upcycled into new garments, not to mention the hidden nutritious benefits found in food waste of all kinds - including those simply discarded because they don't look a certain way. Reusing this perceived waste not only saves on the resources needed to make a virgin product, but also helps stop valuable materials from being burned or sent to the bin, adding toxins to our air, water and soils. It makes good business sense too. Reducing waste within a supply chain takes precedence, but waste has commercial value both internally and externally, with beauty brands using nutrients from food waste in skincare, through to paper manufacturers extracting fibres from textile offcuts.
Discover five companies upcycling non-plastic feedstocks into materials for use across the packaging and textiles landscape.