By Margie Suozzo and the DesignX Team
Imagine this. If all people on our precious planet consumed food, clothing, and goods at a rate that Americans consume, we would need more than 5.1 Earths to sustain us. The problem is, we have only one. The products we consume impact people and the planet throughout their lifecycle: from extraction, production, and distribution, to consumption and disposal. Businesses are producing products to maximize profits. Consumers are purchasing to minimize costs. But the costs to the environment and our future are often not included on either side of the equation. Our overconsumption habit is filling up landfills and polluting our air, soil and water. The Newby Island Landfill, where most of your garbage goes, was slated to close in 2025, though a recent permit approval increased the height to which garbage could be piled to 100 feet, extending the landfill’s life. Enter visions of “Wally”, after the humans had escaped the ravaged earth, piling garbage evermore.
So what is the solution?
Consumers can buy less and reuse and share more.
Many businesses operate on a planned obsolescence model, designing and building products that they know will be obsolete in 3-6 months. Or they produce fast fashion that they know will not be desirable in short order, ensuring that customers will keep coming back for more. But there are excellent examples of companies taking the lead on sustainability through “cradle to cradle” or “circular economy” design, in which manufacturers design products for durability and reuse.
REcycling, DOWNcycling, UPcycling!
The triangular recycling symbol is intended to remind us that recycling closes the loop. Materials created with energy and other inputs, once recycled, are put back into the economy as another product. In the ideal world, all products could be recycled into the same products – a plastic bottle becomes a plastic bottle or office paper becomes office paper. But typically the material degrades on recycling, known as downcycling, as a result of contamination or processing. Plastic bottles may become furniture, office paper becomes lower grade paper, and so on.
In contrast, upcycling reuses or re-purposes items, making them better than the originals. In fashion, this often means taking something that doesn’t fit or is stained and refashioning it into another product. Upcycling reuses textiles, that would most likely end up in the trash, in a creative way.
DesignX knows something about upcycling. Founded by Los Altos resident Durga Kavalagunta, DesignX provides afterschool and summer programs in fashion design for kids. Children learn how to ideate, sketch, sew and embellish their own stylish wearable products. Since its inception, DesignX has proudly used post-consumer “waste” fabric, either donated by the community or left over from student projects, for design challenges and small projects.
The DesignX team also regularly scours through tons of fabric samples donated by design houses to FabMo, a local non-profit dedicated to fabric and textile recycling. FabMo provides unique, high-end materials, that individuals can rescue and reuse for creative purposes, diverting about 70 tons of material from entering the landfill each year. DesignX students repurpose these designer fabrics converting them to iphone cases, pillow cases, wallets and other accessories.