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Waste is not Waste until we Waste it


Guest Article | Jeff Vollebregt, Director - Upparel

We were delighted to meet Jeff Vollebregt last year when someone suggested we needed to see the incredible initiative Upparel. Jeff is a true advocate and business person driving radical intervention in textile waste. Upparel is focused on extending product life and stopping textiles from going into landfill by leading the change for future generations. Having started with socks, Upparel now upcycles all sorts of textiles into quality, useful products and supporting organisations and charities on their journey to sustainability and circularity.

 

18 months ago, on Jan 30 (my birthday 😊), I was sitting alone in the gnarly little windswept warehouse looking at the lonely 11kg parcel of old clothes we’d received in our first month of operation and thought….”Awesome!!!”

Yeah nah, more like…. “what the hell have I done???”

A year and a half and 160 tonne later, we are looking forward and trying to plan for what’s possible, how we can improve and how can we increase our impact.

Whilst we’d like to think we are making a small difference, the reality is this textile waste problem feels endless.


Textile waste needs radical intervention NOW!

People get very excited about the circular economy but often don’t know how that is possible at scale.

Internationally, there are a lot of important changes to legislation that we should be looking towards for our future. New policies and legislative changes, ceasing the export of textile waste, incentives to meet goals and changes to behaviours across industries, are all being implemented in forward thinking economies.

Likewise here in New Zealand, we genuinely need to consider the systemic changes for our country to achieve circularity.

Our actions hold the potential to shape the future and leave a sustainable legacy for the next generation. It’s time to scale solutions that won’t cost the earth and wont adversely impact others. 

A significant amount of our own end-of-life/use garments end up being shipped overseas – inevitably this ends up being turned into rags, incinerated or sent to their landfill. Why is it ok to export clothing made of plastics but locally we ban the use of other products made of that same material? This really does need to end!

It’s really no longer about doing less harm, we simply need to do more good.



UPPAREL

At UPPAREL, we take a far different approach. Textile waste needn’t be shipped overseas when there is a genuine Onshore Recycling solution!


UPPAREL sorts and processes within our own facilities - everything from the packaging that your garments are shipped in, to the zips/buttons etc. on jackets that are removed and recycled so there's no need to remove anything prior to sending it to us.


Where textiles are not fit for re-wear and donation to our Charity partner organisations, we begin our recycling process. The most common outcome is to turn textiles into our revolutionary material, UPtex.



UPtex – onshore recycling in action!

In April 2023 we initiated a world-first full-line process of collection, recovery and upcycling of uniforms, garments and textiles in Onehunga, Auckland.  

The outcome of all this was UPtex - a wholly NZ manufactured rigid panel product we create from 100% NZ textile waste that we recover and process right here in Onehunga.  

Its versatility makes it a suitable choice for a wide range of applications, such as signage, packaging, homewares and commercial interiors. UPtex can be printed, laser cut, die cut, folded, moulded, stitched and is available in a wide variety of densities and thicknesses.

The cherry on top is that everything UPtex is also 100% recyclable through us at the end of life! So this material is not only recycled but genuinely circular.


The Power of Partnership & Team

To make the greatest impact possible, our key priority coming into this business was to Partner with like-minded organisations to jointly make a massive dent in the recovery and recycling of textile waste.   We did what we could, whenever we could, to pursue this obsession!   

I’m proud to say that, along the way we’ve worked (and are continuing to work and grow) with many fantastic organisations and companies, committed to achieving real change in environmental wellbeing and sustainability. However at the heart of it all are our own wonderful UPPAREL team of textile waste Superstars!

Although things got crazy at times these past 18 months, we by far exceeded what we planned to achieve and the future is shaping up to absolutely epic.

Thanks to all our valued partners in our Textile Waste Recovery and Recycling initiative and stay tuned because…

….You really  ain’t seen anything yet!!!

 



Jeff Vollebregt is Director of textile waste upcycler, UPPAREL.

UPPAREL takes what many consider a waste item and converts these into a sustainable and profitable resource. UPPAREL in NZ and AU has diverted over 1.6 million items from landfill which have been either donated as fit for wear to local charities or recycled into UPtex

Drop Jeff a line on jeff@upparel.nz or visit www.upparel.nz

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