A few issues/posts back, I talked about plastic—that ubiquitous substance on which our societies have become dependent, and for which there is no green disposal method. If we can’t burn our plastic trash, if it won’t decompose in a landfill (not within a reasonable timeframe, and maybe not even then), if the result of so much plastic waste is contaminating not only the environment, but the animals, fishes, and our own bodies, what are we to do with them?
As a matter of fact, a number of companies are collecting plastic waste and recycling it into new products. Processing takes many forms to make the materials usable. Some shred the cleaned and sanitized waste into flakes. Others spin it into thread. No matter the method, finding new purposes for old products—especially those made from materials that last forever, more or less—aids our society’s move into circularity.
According to Business of Home, Circularity means that “a product is created with its own end-of-life taken into account.” In other words, once you’re done with a product, you send it back into the supply chain for its materials to be reused in new products. There are a number of companies doing this already. Knickey takes back used undies, bras, socks, and tights (men’s and women’s) and gives the customer rewards points toward their next purchase each time they recycle a worn-out garment through Knickey. Those materials are turned into new products like insulation, carpet padding, furniture batting, and more. As of this writing, they’ve recycled over 750,000 products in this program.
Adidas has a similar program (see below), and other companies are also joining in. It makes sense, especially in products that use polyester (a type of plastic usually derived from petroleum) in some form.
Even construction companies, contractors, and government infractructure organizations are jumping on the circularity bandwagon, with great results. All the basic building materials—concrete, bricks, even lumber—can be made from or with upcycled materials, and companies in multiple countries are turning to these choices more regularly. According to Inhabitat, Columbian company Conceptos Plásticoshas had great success with creating LEGO-like building blocks to construct low-cost housing in Columbia. Shini Construction lists numerous ways the construction industry has incorporated recycled plastics—not just the basic three I mentioned above, but also roofing tiles, indoor insulation, PVC windows, fences, floor tiles, carpeting, ceiling tiles, and more. All are lower maintenance and more energy efficient. Added bonus? They help keep plastics out of the ocean.
Trex Decks recycles the plastic films you’d think are unreusable—things like bread bags, grocery bags, bubble wrap, cereal bags, Ziplocs, etc.—in the construction of their deck products. Through partnerships with corporations, retail stores, consumers and others, they rescued and upcycled over 400 million pounds of plastic in 2021. They even have 32,000 NexTrex collection stations where consumers can return plastic film for recycling!
On a larger scale, a growing number of countries—the United States included—are making roads from waste plastics. Not only are they more durable than regular asphalt or bitumen roadways, but they require less maintenance, require fewer resources to produce, and emit fewer noxious gasses in their production. While India was the first to have plastic roads (more than two decades ago), others are joining in the efforts, recycling larger quantities of plastic waste. It’ll take time for this to become commonplace; the technology is still evolving, but it is moving forward.
Recycling old items in this way keeps them out of landfills and waterways and gives them a whole new life. Below, I’ve included a brief list of companies working to close the loop, but this is only a sampling.
Rothy’s prides themselves on using circular practices, meaning everything is a continuous loop that renews itself. Rothys uses single-use plastic bottles to create their “signature thread,” used to knit all their handbags and accessories. This alone has helped to repurpose over 400,000 pounds of plastic collected from land within 30 miles of coastlines.
Green Toys recycles milk jugs (and occasionally yogurt cups) by grinding the clean plastic into flakes, melting them down, and using the resultant materials to create new toys – all without glue, metal, screws, or paint. And their toys meet the highest standards for safety.
Columbia OutDry Extreme Eco Rainjackets use recycled polyester and water bottles (21 bottles per jacket) to create a waterproof fabric that is free of PFCs (may contain trace amounts). The OutDry Extreme is white – dye-free fabric saves over 13 gallons of water per jacket. And all the trim—labels, zipper pulls, thread and eyelets—are made from recycled content. There’s an insulated version of this jacket, too. They aren’t the only ones. Patagonia also recycles polyester and plastic soda bottles. In fact, 84% of the fabrics are recycled.
Adidas – In 2019, Adidas made about 11 million pairs of shoes with recycled plastics. By partnering with Parley, a project focused on finding solutions for plastic pollution in the oceans, they were able to keep tons of plastic from reaching the ocean. They also take back your worn-out Adidas product and recycle/reuse the materials.
Fab Habitat’s home décor products are made with sustainability in mind. Many of their rugs are made using recycled plastics like water bottles and food- and medicine-grade containers.
West Paw is a pet supply store with a mission: to make every toy, every leash, every bed, everything they sell from recycled materials. They tell you where their materials come from and will take back the products at the end of their life to make new ones—especially the toys. Not only that, their meat treats for dogs are source from farms where the food animals are raised in ethical, humane surroundings and conditions.
Recover Apparel makes teeshirts, socks, hats, and various other products from recycled plastics and upcycled cotton. When you’ve worn it out and are ready for a new one, you can send it back to be upcycled and effectively close the loop.
These turned up with a quick Google search, but they are by no means the only ones out there doing the work that needs to be done. Others abound. Support sustainable practices by “voting” with your dollars. Don’t just buy a pair of shoes or a tee shirt or a rug; do your research and buy from companies who are taking steps toward circularity.
(Neither I nor Niveym Arts, LLC received any compensation from the companies or businesses listed herein in exchange for this article.)