Magazine article Geographical

From Bottles to Bags: We're Carbon-Offsetting Our Flights, Staying in Hotels Lit by Solar Energy and Eating in Restaurants Serving Locally Produced Food. but What about Our Rucksacks, Jackets and Sleeping Bags? Paul Deegan Attempts to Pack Green Equipment

Magazine article Geographical

From Bottles to Bags: We're Carbon-Offsetting Our Flights, Staying in Hotels Lit by Solar Energy and Eating in Restaurants Serving Locally Produced Food. but What about Our Rucksacks, Jackets and Sleeping Bags? Paul Deegan Attempts to Pack Green Equipment

Article excerpt

Yvon Chouinard once said: I'm going to die with these shoes. This is the last pair of brown leather shoes I'm going to buy. That's my attitude towards buying everything: to try to buy something that is going to last the rest of my life.'

Chouinard, the founder of outdoor clothing company Patagonia, is renowned for his stance on environmental issues. Despite owning a company whose survival depends on sales of apparel, Chouinard publicly exhorts customers to buy outdoor clothes from secondhand sources: a search on eBay brings up more than 1,300 items of Patagonia togs for sale by private sellers. The company even has its own stores for discontinued lines and seconds (its European outlet is in Dublin).

In 1993, Patagonia became the first outdoor company to turn discarded plastic into fleece clothing: 3,700 two-litre bottles produce more than 150 items of Synchilla fabric. This process saves 158 litres of oil and avoids releasing about 450 kilograms of toxic emissions into the air. So far, around 92 million plastic bottles have been recycled. Rather than patenting this process, Patagonia made the technique of producing garments from trash available to all. Sadly, few other manufacturers followed suit.

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However, a consortium of outdoor clothing companies did join Patagonia's next project: to find uses for the scraps of fleece that end up on the cutting-room floor. In the first five months of the scheme, enough fleece to cover three football fields in a layer of scraps as deep as the length of the page you're reading was redirected from landfill to stuffed toys, pillows and sound insulation in vehicles.

Patagonia's latest initiative got under way two years ago. The Common Threads Garment Recycling Programme accepts Patagonia base and mid-layers, as well as Polartec fleece from other manufacturers. The clothing is then broken down to the molecular level and purified, in order to produce raw polyester chips that are of the same quality as virgin polyester. These chips are subsequently melted and spun into new fibre, which is then used to make another item of gear.

Making polyester from old clothes rather than virgin materials results in an energy saving of 76 per cent and a C[O.sub.2] emissions reduction of 71 per cent. More than 130 items in Patagonia's current range are made from old clothes that have been put through the Common Threads process. UK retailers that support the initiative have containers in their stores where old, clean clothing can be donated.

RETURN AND REUSE

The German manufacturer Vaude has been running a similar scheme for about 12 years. Base layers with the Ecolog tag can be returned to Vaude for recycling into new garments. At one stage, the range included waterproof jackets, rucksacks and sleeping bags. Because the whole product was made from the same substance, items such as zips didn't have to be removed before the recycling process could begin. But a decade ago, retailers were less interested in green gear, and the products were eventually phased out.

Vaude has initiated or joined several other programmes, including Bluesign, an international standard for textile production. The company has been a member since 2002. 'Bluesign examines every aspect of the process, including raw materials, transportation and the environmental impact,' says Chris Davison, Vaude's manager in the UK.

In May, Patagonia and the Canadian retailer Mountain Equipment Co-Op joined Bluesign. With global brands such as Nike and Marks & Spencer embracing the organisation, Davison hopes that in the future, products bearing the Bluesign label will become a familiar sight in stores. 'lf all our competitors joined Bluesign, that would be great,' he says.

In the UK, eagle-eyed readers may have already spotted products containing recycled or organic material trickling onto the shelves of outdoor shops, including clothing treated with Cocona (an activated carbon derived from coconut shells that adds protection from UV light, absorbs body odours and helps to disperse sweat) and boots fitted with Vibram's Ecostep soles, which comprise one-third scrap rubber. …

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