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not all recycling methods are created equal

Recycling is often seen as a solution to manage pre and post-consumer textile waste. However, there are differences in recycling methods when it comes to environmental impact. As consumers, designers or manufacturers, we must learn the difference.

The challenge of responsible production

Currently, sustainability is still one of the most relevant issues for humanity. 

This concept refers to the harmony between economic, social and environmental aspects of the value system, considered as a whole and not individually. 

In general, industries are unprepared to meet the challenge of producing responsibly. 

Among all the sustainability failures they face, one of the most important is overproduction.

overproduction: the elephant in the room

Overproduction is a problem for mass consumer goods manufacturers. It is estimated that 67% of factories produce between 4% and 8% more than required. This margin is far from the tolerance that can be assumed by any firm, which is usually between 1% and 3%.

Within the fashion industry, the numbers are even more alarming. Up to 30% of what clothing brands produce ends up in the trash, or incinerated.

But the most disturbing fact is that 52% of companies have no idea how to deal with overproduction.

tackling overproduction

The worst part of overproduction is that most companies lack the tools or protocols to deal with unsold products in a sustainable way.

To solve it, we must first understand that overproduction is rooted  in the concept of linear economics, based on “create, use, throw away”. 

In this way, overproduction inevitably becomes something to throw away, wasting energy and valuable raw materials, as well as generating polluting waste.

The concept of recycling, on the other hand, comes from circular economy. It proposes taking into account all phases of a product’s life cycle as part of the value chain. 

Under the slogan “reduce, reuse and recycle”, it involves planning responsibly the design and manufacture of products so that they can be reintegrated into the value chain.

Alleviating the Problem of Excess Waste

Faced with this scenario, recycling emerges as a way to alleviate the problem. This concept is based on processing a discarded product and creating a new one.

The act of recycling is of utmost importance to society, since it involves reusing elements that would otherwise be discarded. In this way, it avoids generating more garbage, which continuously damages the planet.

When it comes to environmental care, not everything goes. There are important differences in ways to recycle and as consumers, designers or manufacturers it is our obligation to be aware of these concepts.

Recycling types are differentiated by contrasting the use, and therefore the value, that the item to be recycled had in its original state. For this reason, there are three differentiations: up-cycling, when value is added, recycling, when it maintains its original value, and down-cycling, when it becomes a product of lower value.

recycling, down-cycling and upcycling

The first type is recycling itself, which involves subjecting waste to an industrial process so that it can be put to its original use or function. The most common examples occur with glass and metals, which can be melted down to form a product of equal quality.

When it is not possible to return waste to its original state, down-cycling is born. This process allows the waste to be transformed into another product of lower quality. The advantage of downcycling is that no new raw material is used, but energy is used to reprocess the material. An excellent example is white paper: it is transformed back into paper, which, although it will no longer be white, is still useful.

The flip side of this process is up-cycling, which transforms useless products or overproduction waste into better quality products, without using energy and other processes. Its objective is to avoid waste, since instead of producing new materials, existing ones are used, thus avoiding, in the case of fashion, that tons of garments and textile material end up in the landfill.

advantages of upcycling

A great advantage of upcycling is that it makes it possible to clearly identify what the object was before its new function. It is a kind of homage, an exaltation and enhancement of what that object once was.

This happens because upcycling, rather than recycling, is about reimagining uses of existing products and materials and turning them into something new. It is a creative resource to be sustainable and also to bring more value to objects and furniture.

For example, it means to give a twist, to think of another use, to take advantage of the resources we have to create new objects to which we provide a touch of fresh air through the creativity of the designer.


The Fashion Alive project is commited to developing sustainable production methods to tackle waste production. 

Uminho, our Portuguese partner is bringing in their expertise in Textile Engineering to develop a collection of sustainable garments made entirely out of up-cycled materials. 

It will be showcased at a live event in Guimaraes, Portugal on June 2nd and it is open to the general public, so everyone can experience first-hand how upcycling can be a possibility to tackle waste production in fashion. 

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