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Upcycling / Repurposing Textiles: First Step towards Sustainable Living!

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

Upcycling / Repurposing for Sustainable Living by
Upcycling / Repurposing for Sustainable Living

Neeta is fed up with her Grandma’s old ways of life. One thing that irritates her the most is grandma’s habit of not trashing things not in use anymore. Her rhetoric of ‘‘let’s find some use for it’’ adds extra work on the household. Every morsel of uneaten food has to be kept in a designated space for birds. Her mom’s old scarves and sarees have been converted into cushion covers and table runners; old curtains became quilt inner covers and old t-shirts..…oh God, they live multiple lives… towels to dusters and finally mops! She can spend days on sewing machines making ‘something’ out of preloved clothes! Neeta cannot make her understand that the laborious hours she’s putting in making recycled stuff makes it more expensive than the new stuff available in the market. Why put all the effort in recycling when fresh alternates are cheaply available in the market! Oh these oldies, do not understand microeconomics!

Sample Calculations for Upcycling Textiles
Sample Calculations for Upcycling Textiles

To put across her point, granny has asked Neeta to do some basic calculations about the wastages caused by binning useable fabrics. The calculations were an eye-opener for Neeta and she was instantly reminded about a recent controversy where a high-end brand was found dumping and burning all the unsold inventory that could have been very well donated to people in need.

And if you think that repurposing / upcycling fabrics is all about saving money...please read the next bit!

What is 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?

How can textiles contribute to 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development?

The 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by all countries of United Nations in 2015. It sets out 17 goals and 169 targets. These wide-ranging and ambitious goals interconnect and the implementation of one goal might contribute towards the progress of other goals. By upcycling textiles, we would be directly contributing to
Global Goals for Sustainable Development-UN 2030
Global Goals for Sustainable Development

Goal 3: Good Health & Well being - by reducing the amount of fabrics that go into landfills, especially the ones that do not degrade easily.

Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation – upcycling reduces the consumption of new textiles which is unfortunately a highly water-polluting and consumption industry.

Goal 8: Decent work and Economic Growth – Upcycling textiles has huge potential in cottage industries and micro and small-scale self-employability with an emphasis on local consumption that would further help in reducing carbon footprints.

Goal 11 – Sustainable cities and Communities – As mentioned above, textile upcycling efforts can make local communities more sustainable and lead them towards self-sufficiency.

Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production- Adopting textile up-cycling as a way of life can induce responsible behavior in the consumption and production of new textiles.

How can Individuals & organisations adapt to fabric usage protocols for Sustainable living?

1.Garments and upholstery can be upcycled for making a number of utility products like tote bags, tissue holders, cloth trays, rag pot holders, pet blankets and more.

2. The best fabrics to upcycle are denims. Incidentally, denims are notorious for huge water consumption and chemical waste generation during manufacturing. They also happen to be the sturdiest of all the fabrics. It only makes sense that these should not be put in the landfill for few holes and we keep repurposing them for as long as possible.

3. Given a choice, it would make more sense to upcycle non or slow-degrading synthetic textiles on priority. Primarily because they should be kept away from landfills as long as possible and they also have the added advantage of strength for functional textiles.

4. It can be a worthy practice for sewing and craft training organizations to collect donations of old textiles from their community and motivate students / learners to repurpose these for new projects.

5. Upcycling / repurposing projects should source raw materials locally to ensure minimum carbon footprints.

6. Sewing and textile craft training institutes need to shift focus from garment manufacturing to repurposing and upcycling textiles into apparel and utility products.

Is Sustainable use of Textiles a novel concept?

The origin of Kantha embroideries in Bengal could be one of the earliest examples of zero-waste upcycling/repurposing of textiles with a minimum waste process. Asian subcontinent has numerous such examples of local crafts that have been contributing their bit in saving the environment since the early days. It’s time we provide them their due share of credit and respect for the same

A whole lot of fashion brands these days are claiming their share of contribution to the environment by introducing clothing generated from waste plastic etc. Unfortunately, most of these businesses are not transparent about the amount of processing that goes into converting a few kgs of plastic into a shirt. Neither do they provide any information about the amount of water, chemicals and power utilised in these processes. While, some of these industries might be putting genuine efforts in sustainable productions system, they still remain process heavy.

Therefore, upcycling/repurposing textiles remains the most efficient way and every individual can do their bit in saving the environment by making responsible choices. In short, if you are truly concerned about your environment and want to follow sustainable living:

1. Do not fall for impulse buying. Buy only when needed!

2. Before you buy for your needs, run a quick check around the house. You might find a piece of apparel or textile unused for long time which can be repurposed into the new product.

To sum it all up, if you want the toxic industries to reduce producing non-essential products at the cost of the environment, you have to stop buying them first…..because the manufacturer doesn’t make what the customer doesn’t buy.

The onus is clearly on US!

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Amazingly informative this helped me a lot... I would recommend this to anyone and everyone who is into the textile business!

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