March 28, 2017

Recycle your daily routine: startups that could help our planet

by Julia Kutyreva
by Julia Kutyreva
Recycle your daily routine: startups that could help our planet

The green philosophy is taking over the planet, or so it seems when you open your favourite social networking sites. Healthy organic-bound diets, recycling, switching to bikes over cars — all of these feel like small steps for a man, giant leaps for mankind, all that upbeat stuff. However, there is still so much to work on, both on the «man» and the «mankind» scales, and one of the biggest problems stretching over both of those is retail-feeding consumerism that is thoroughly nourished by clothing corporations. But maybe there is hope for humanity after all, as even those sturdiest of heart and wallet give in to the idea of sustainable fashion.

H&M, the second largest clothing retailer in the world, is known for its affordable and various-ranged items, but with great power comes great responsibility for the thriving of fast fashion — the ideology of buying cheaper clothing and dumping it all away at the end of the season to get more new stuff. It might seem like a preferable alternative for the young and financially unstable, or just for those who like the idea of not throwing away a third of your salary on a skirt and another quarter on a pair of heels to match. But it justifies the existence of sweatshops, low-paid jobs in horrible conditions, neglecting safety in manufactures and plants to save up another billion or two, later paid in human lives. Maybe this was the case why H&M came up with an ethical initiative in 2015 — the Global Change Award.

The Global Change Award is aimed at startups that can make fashion circular — through materials, processes or business models. The €1 million grant is distributed among 5 best ideas chosen by experts in fashion, ethics, and sustainability. In 2015, more than 2 700 green projects were submitted to the contest. They are mostly no more than startups on paper or early-staged experiments, but some of them get wonderful sequels that make our planet a little less of an industrial mess. Some of them are intricate and science-y, like developing a microbe that can digest waste polyester, and others are beautifully simple — like creating new items out of waste. Here are three award-winning projects that exploit reusing that you must know about.

Orange you glad recycling exists?

The idea that won €150 000 in 2015 was brought to life by two Sicilian girls who wanted to make their sunny country an even better place. Italy is known for its citrus and citrus-bound productions of various kinds. Unfortunately, this results in 700 000 tons of citrus byproducts going to waste every year. Think how many cartons of juice this is. But it also could be loads of new t-shirts, shopper bags or mom jeans. Orange Fiber, that’s the name of the startup, extracts cellulose from citrus waste, which then with the help of nanotechnology is transformed into yarn and into fabric. The fabric is not only eco-friendly, but also beneficial to your skin: it releases citrus essence onto your body, combining fashion and cosmetics. Just the right thing for the ladies who are too lazy to put on body lotion after shower.

Orange Fiber’s website states that right now the idea is undergoing the operational phase, with proposals arriving from top fashion brands. The project does look promising and has collected quite a few awards, so hopefully soon the retail market will be supplemented with clothing items that are siblings of your morning smoothies.

Raise a glass to sustainability

This next idea is also based on the intention of reusing alimentary waste and will seem even more appealing to you if you're an adherent of enjoying a glass of wine now and then. It's a cruel-free and eco-friendly alternative for leather and faux leather coming from grape byproducts. Tons of skin and stalks go to waste in the process of winemaking, and this startup encourages making them into vegetal leather instead of burning them (which is also not the most ecological idea). Both natural and synthetic leather affect the environment in a negative way — manufacturing them pollutes the air and soil, leather means killing animals and faux leather means using a lot of oil. This vegetal leather project only means making wine production a more efficient process. I don't know about you, but I'd be delighted to wear a jacket that once made a date night on a beach even more romantic or spiced up a bachelorette party.

This project is still in development, its next step being the refinement of the mechanism and creating bonds and partnerships within the fashion industry. Even if you don't drink — which is totally praiseworthy — go have a glass of grape juice or top your ice cream with some grenadine. It's good for the environment now.

Fashion recursion in action

The last idea will probably blow your mind. Okay, most likely it won't, but I find it brilliant in its simplicity. We all have this clothing item in our wardrobes. Our parents have it in theirs. Our children, nephews and nieces have it too. Probably your grandma does too, if she used to embrace the hippie culture or is generally hip and up-to-date. It's jeans. Denim is one of the most used textiles in clothing production. And it takes lots of water, energy, and chemicals to make your pair look cool — to dye it. Not only does dyeing jeans eat up considerable amounts of resources, it also contaminates water with dye waste. It's a lose-lose for the nature, but now there's a way to reduce the amount of harm done. Old denim can be broken into tiny pieces to produce colouring powder and dye new jeans or make prints on clothing items. Not having to endanger Earth by conducting a chain of chemical-based processes plus giving new life to the old pieces of clothing instead of disposing — two trouser legs with one stone indeed. The working prototype of this project already exists, and the founders are now looking for collaborations with fashion brands.

Our world still has a long way to go when it comes to maintaining an eco-friendly and less consumptive system. But even one project, however unrealistic or hard to achieve it might seem, can save a thousand trees, a hundred lives, a million gallons of water. Even the largest brands and companies begin to realise the new model is the key to a happier harmonic future — a huge leap for a corporation, a small but encouraging step for humanity.