From clothing to toys, companies are tackling the planet’s waste problem by upcycling trash into sustainable treasures.
Let’s talk trash. No, not hot goss—we mean garbage. The average American generates about five pounds of it each day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Multiply that by the more than 330 million citizens residing in the U.S. and you’ve got yourself a bona fide waste crisis.
So, where does all of the waste go? Well, there are various outlets for waste disposal, which vary depending on what part of the country you’re in. The most popular destination for trash is landfills, which are designed to store waste—not break it down. Rubbish stored in landfills can produce toxins that leach into the surrounding environment, polluting the soil and groundwater. Decaying trash can also generate greenhouse gasses, such as methane and carbon dioxide.
Other outlets for waste include waste-to-energy centers, which convert solid waste to energy via combustion, and recycling plants. But not all of what’s designated as recycling actually gets recycled. Only certain plastic products like water and soda bottles—not plastic utensils and straws—can actually be recycled. And other items like food containers can’t be recycled if they have traces of food residue on them. The U.S. also ships its waste to developing countries, even though many have refused to accept it.
Companies turning trash into treasure
In an effort to curb the sheer amount of waste piling up in landfills, brands like Ikea and Lululemon have launched resell programs, allowing customers to trade in their used items. Companies are also taking a more innovative approach to the planet’s waste crisis. They’re getting creative—turning trash into everything from clothing to shoes and even toys.
From bottles to bags—want to help tackle the planet’s plastic waste problem? Try wearing it. This apparel brand carries a variety of shoes and bags, including totes and clutches, made from recycled plastic bottles and post-consumer recycled materials. The company launched its own pilot recycling program in 2021 and has committed to achieving circular production by 2023. As of 2020, Rothy’s has repurposed more than 50 million water bottles, reports Forbes.
You can dive right into these sustainable swimsuits. This England-based swimwear brand is trash—literally. The company makes its one-piece swimsuits out of 100 percent recycled post-consumer plastic waste, including water bottles and bags.
3. Green Toys
Give your kids a sustainable toy. This California-based toy manufacturer makes its toys, which are non-toxic and BPA-free, out of 100 recycled materials, including milk jugs. According to the company, it has helped to recycle more than 100 million milk jugs to date.
In 2020, sportswear giant Nike launched a shoe collection inspired by life on Mars. Made from recycled trash, the line of vegan sneakers has one of the lowest carbon footprints compared to the brand’s other collections, according to Nike. The shoes are comprised of recycled materials, including plastic bottles and t-shirts.
Down feathers are out—Buffy’s recycled plastic comforters are in. The bedding brand’s award-winning Cloud Comforter is made from Tencel lyocell fibers, which are derived from sustainable wood sources like eucalyptus, and features a recycled plastic filling. Each comforter helps to recycle about 50 plastic bottles.
Give your trash a new lease on life
Looking to reduce the amount of waste you generate? Try giving it away. After all, one man’s trash is another person’s treasure. There are a number of groups that work to connect people who are looking to give items away. “Buy less and share more. It makes us all richer and the planet cleaner,” is the Buy Nothing Project’s motto. Founded in 2013, the network of community-based groups encourages the “giving (or recycling) of consumer goods and services (called “gifts of self”) in preference to conventional commerce.” Freecycle is a similar platform aimed at connecting people who are giving away items for free. Or better yet, look for ways to reuse your trash in the home or garden, and commit to going zero-waste wherever possible to reduce the amount of trash you create in the first place.