Waste Not, Want Not

in Features

With the world’s recycling in chaos since China, once the largest importer of waste, decided to no longer accept recycled waste from other countries, there has been an upsurge in attempts to reduce the amount of material entering the environment which can’t be recycled. 

But why recycle when you can upcycle? We’ve been recycling since the late 1900s, but upcycling didn’t enter the collective consciousness until the early 2000s. Once a buzzword used by interior and fashion designers, upcycling has become a much more environmentally friendly option and is a way to give products that would normally go into the recycling bin a second lease of life. It used to be all about the ‘3 R’s’ – ‘Reduce’, ‘Reuse’ and ‘Recycle’ – but now businesses are being encouraged to turn to the ‘4 R’s’ – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Repeat. In effect, this is upcycling – turning waste materials into amazing new ‘stuff’! The difference being that whilst recycling breaks down products into their raw materials to be made into new things, upcycling repurposes old materials into a product of a higher quality than previously. 

The best part is that upcycling will save you money! Instead of buying new and expensive items, there is no shortage of money-saving hacks out there that will leave you with on-trend objects to grace your home or which you can transform into up-to-the minute fashion pieces. Make no mistake, it is not just home crafters, but big brands are also getting in on the act and using their waste to make stylish products. Every piece of the Adidas X Parley collection of shoe sportswear is made of plastic rubbish collected from remote beaches and coastal communities, whilst Procter & Gamble has launched a shampoo bottle manufactured partly from beach plastic.

The idea of reusing recycled materials isn’t new. The ‘take-make-waste’ linear economy where resources are taken from the ground to make products, which we then use, and, when we no longer want them, throw away, has to change.  The system has to shift to a ‘circular economy’ – in which products are made, used, and then remade and reused. It is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

With the global population predicted to approach nearly 9 billion people by 2030, we are using more resources than the planet can provide. Our future depends on reusing what we have in a sustainable way. Take the production of clothes and the fashion industry – there has to be a shift from the perception of clothes as a disposable item to a durable product. How can this be done? Think of renting clothes. This could provide us with a way to access a variety of garments, whilst decreasing the demand for the production of new ones. Look in your wardrobes. How many items of clothing do you actually wear? Making fashion circular will be a hard task, because the majority of us are addicted to cheap and fast fashion, but there are things that we can all do to help make fashion sustainable. We could try and make our clothes last longer by repairing items, restyling them, washing and storing them, instead of throwing them out. Embrace secondhand clothing and before you buy anything new, curate your wardrobe. Do you already have that white shirt you were thinking of purchasing?

Try buying high quality and long-lasting items. Choose pieces that you will wear time and time again. Although difficult, staying out of high street stores will stop impulse buying. If we stop buying fast fashion, companies will stop making it. It’s no accident that clothes from fast fashion retailers are not made to last for several years.

We can’t stop waste production entirely, but everyone can make a significant contribution. Think before you bin! It saves energy and natural resources, helps to reduce pollution and reduces the need for landfill. Don’t think you have to have any special skills to upcycle. Anybody can do it! Once you embrace the act of upcycling you will find beauty in everything. From repurposing toilet paper rolls into a cable organiser to upcycling your old books into some handy and useful book shelves, there are plenty of projects to be found online that don’t require a huge amount of skill.

Before next Christmas approaches, maybe we should be thinking about organising our possessions and owning less rather than contributing to the growing problem of climate change and global warming. You can easily join the concept of circularity by starting small. Many of us already put our plastic water bottles in recycling bins so that they can go on to have a new life and a new use. Although not always an option, try to buy groceries from stores where they are sold in bulk and take along your own reusable cloth bags. Source products for the home that have been upcycled from reclaimed and recycled materials – recycled products have a lower carbon footprint than those from virgin materials. There are some innovative companies out there inventing new materials using waste without compromising on design, performance or function. 

However, be aware of ‘Greenwashing’. These is when companies falsely market products as eco-friendly and then try to make people believe that their company is doing more to protect the environment than they really are, when in reality the product or service doesn’t have, or hardly has, any environmental benefits.

Now that the season of excess is behind us, think about rejecting consumerism, embracing minimalism and make an effort to think how you could pare your life down to essentials. Research has shown that happiness comes from experiences rather than from owning stuff. That may be a difficult ask, because it is probably impossible to completely stop buying things, but we can start basing our happiness on the memories we make with family and friends instead.  

Disposing of waste correctly needn’t be complicated. Whether you are looking to throw out or recycle, from your home or your business, all waste has its proper place. More information about the local environment and the Gibraltar Government’s Department of the Environment’s Awareness initiative – working to ensure a healthy environment for current and future generations – can be found on the Thinking Green website: www.thinkinggreen.gov.gi 


We’ve all got too much stuff and especially after the deluge of presents and gifts that have been received at Christmas. January is often a good time for reflection and decluttering, but now more than ever we should be thinking about how we can dispose of items responsibly. 


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