Alice asked the Cheshire Cat,
who was sitting in a tree,
“What road do I take?”
The cat asked,
“Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat,
“it really doesn’t matter, does it?”

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Brands take up on upcycling

Whiplash Team, February 7th, 2020

Brands take up on upcycling

Brands embrace upcycling and incorporate new processes into their production systems to convert waste into new products of greater value, eliminating waste and betting on economic growth and resource conservation.

A couple of weeks ago Jean Paul Gautier, one of the world’s most famous fashion designers, said goodbye to catwalks after 50 years of activity. He did it with a collection that marks a turning point in the world of haute couture and is a celebration of sustainability.

For his farewell parade, the man who gave his name to one of the best-known fashion brands had a look at all his jumble and made a collection of scraps, waste from other collections and sequins and beads discarded long ago. An “Haute Couture upcycling” collection for which, according to the designer, he rescued “all my old collections, everything found in my travels and in street markets, to make confetti with them and reuse everything”.

Although for Gautier this last collection is his first foray into the fashion of upcycling, the concept –tied closely to that of the circular economy– has been going around for a while. Not only in the fashion industry, where there are multiple examples of brands that have made upcycling their own label, but in other sectors such as food, for example.

But what is upcycling and how is it different from traditional recycling? Upcycling consists, in short, in transforming waste into valuables through a creative process. Recycling, on the other hand, is an industrial process through which the waste is transformed into a new material, which will be used in turn to produce new objects.

In the upcycling both the process and the result are different from those of recycling, as in the first case, old objects are used to create, with imagination and creativity, a new product of greater value than the original. Old scraps that become catwalk suits, used tyres transformed into backpacks, glass bottles converted into glasses, vases and fancy lamps, fruits and vegetables that do not meet the specifications for sale that become juices, or milk whey that is transformed into a nutritional supplement.

In the words of the artist and upcycling specialist Lucia Bruni, who with her Lucirmas brand has reinvented recycled glass, “more than recycling, upcycling consists in reimagining the use of existing products and materials and turning them into something new”.

In the case of Green Guru, a brand based in Boulder, Colorado, they use raw materials that have a very negative impact on the environment, such as bicycle cameras, tyres, wetsuits, tarpaulins or climbing ropes. The company has created a waste collection system and installed specific containers in sports stores, gyms and bicycle shops. With the waste, Green Guru creates products and accessories for cyclists (bags, backpacks, wallets, bracelets, etc.) dog collars, bracelets, purses or suitcases with the aim of preventing that the rubber of these objects end their days in a landfill.

The sports brand Speedo has also embraced upcycling and recently launched a recycling and upcycling program in partnership with Aquafil, manufacturer of the Econyl fabric. Thus, the sports brand has incorporated upcycling into its strategy and transforms the waste of its production process into new swimsuits with even more interesting properties than that of traditional materials.

In the case of the agri-food industry, brands such as Danone (France) are also doing their thing. The dairy brand, for example, has built a methane production plant from the conversion of agricultural waste. In Spain Indulleida manufactures juices using as raw material the fruit and vegetable products that do not meet the specifications for sale.

Both recycling and supra-recycling are linked to the growing awareness that it is essential to create a society which is more sustainable and responsible with the planet. Consumers understand that they must consume responsibly and that it is necessary to abandon the disposability culture. Also, that is necessary to foster a circular economy in which productive systems resemble ecosystems, where the output of one process is the entrance of another.

Consumers also have clear that brands have a duty and a role to play in this process of social and economic transformation. That is why they demand active participation from brands that translates into facts, improving production processes, creating innovative and environmentally friendly products and promoting business models aligned with circular economy.

Thus, zero-waste businesses grow, big brands add sustainability as a fundamental value and new businesses are born with the purpose of being sustainable.

In our country, companies like Ecoalf base their business and production model on the circular economy. Their “Upcycling the Ocean” project, which was born in response to the horrifying fact that in 2050 there would be more plastic than fish in the oceans, seeks to eliminate from the seas the waste that threatens the marine ecosystem and gives a second life to the recovered waste by converting it into filaments of polyester

Nice To Eat You is another Spanish company born under circular economy philosophy and model, as stated on its website. Spain, according to Ministry of Agriculture, is the seventh country in the EU where more food is wasted with about 7.7 million tons per year. The startup Nice to eat you, aims to reduce food waste while generating benefits for the society and the environment. They do it by publishing on a platform food that businesses have not been able to sell throughout the day on offers, with a 40% discount.

Gradually, brands are incorporating sustainability not only in their speeches or through social responsibility action, but also in their production processes. These are measures that require investment and a clear strategy, which comes from the companies’ boards of directors, and that goes far beyond a position of convenience. These are steps that demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and their desire to play a decisive role in the transformation of society.

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