Waste and luxury, traditionally are not an expected pairing. Our perception of waste needs to change. Why can we not use waste as a resource; a luxury resource?
Landfills do not exactly have sex appeal, yet they contain many hidden gems that can be refurbished, utilised and brought back to life in incredibly creative ways. We need to rethink the word “waste” from the perception of unwanted goods to “wasted opportunity”. Although legislation is becoming tighter across the board with waste management in all industries, we do continue to see a design flaw in the re-use of materials. Things are changing but we need to continue to innovate for now. Otherwise, many of these hidden gems are lost forever, contributing immensely to the pollution of our planet.
Why are these materials entering landfill?
The simple truth of the matter is time, skill, lack of technology and investment.
Recycling, upcycling and refurbishing materials to a high-quality standard requires skilled craftmanship and takes time as well as a lot of creative input. The historic linear path of product design and manufacture means designing a product for one purpose, farming/mining materials that are then transformed into product, which is sold and then once the product has reached it’s maximum use it is thrown away. Fast and cheap production has led to returns/faulty items being discarded or burnt rather than refurbished or resold. Many of the materials used to design these products have incredible properties and we are missing opportunities to utilise these into further incredible products.
Although the technology is rapidly improving in textile recycling, limitations remain. These limitations such as improved recycling technologies and fragmented supply chains have led to only 1% of clothing being recycled into new garments and only 20% of textiles are recycled (Common Objective, 2021). The EPA estimated that in 2018 17 million tonnes of new textile was produced that year, this figure makes the 20% of textiles being recycled seem even smaller. The 80% being thrown away includes materials with incredible luxury qualities, including seatbelts.
What are the consequences?
Many synthetic materials are not biodegradable and can take hundreds of years to breakdown. Seat belts for example take 400 years to decompose, usually resulting in smaller microplastics. The crowded landfill environment slows the decomposition process even for natural materials. Even with tight regulations on landfill sights, the combination of the mix of materials, slow decomposition times lead to the release of greenhouse gases, leachate and other chemicals (including microplastics) into the environment.
What is the solution?
For us nothing solves a problem better than creative design and skilled artisanal workmanship.
We need to design/re-invent what already exists as well as investigate material manufacturing that focusses on a seed-to-seed approach.
Other industries as well as fashion do not have regulations set in place for textile recycling. This is likely due to the limitations in textile recycling as discussed above. The transport industry for example has incredible measures in place for repurposing many of the materials within vehicles, aircraft and other modes of transport. However, textiles used to include seatbelts do not seem to have a regulated process in place for repurposing. They most commonly end up being shredded and scrapped with other non-recyclable elements. Our perspective needs to change as this is not waste, this is opportunity, particularly as many of these materials, especial technical materials such as seatbelts have many luxury qualities that can be utilised.
Here at Belo we have built our innovative supply chain to collect these materials from car mechanics ect. to save them from a life in landfill. Using creative design and development we have worked with these products to create award winning designs encapsulate more beauty, less waste while supporting the community we work with. We have proved that beautiful luxury products can be born from re-imagining recycled and upcycled materials such as seatbelts.