Patagonia flips upcycling on its head to slash manufacturing waste
Patagonia has embarked on an ambitious remanufacturing programme to continuously recycle its flip-flops, with the potential to reduce production waste by nearly a third.
The outdoor clothing company has teamed up with a small upstart firm PLUSfoam to create 100% recyclable flip-flops that can be upcycled into new flip-flops at the end of their life with no drop in performance.
The technology being employed utilises a process whereby various combinations of reclaimed post-consumer materials, post-manufacturing scrap and virgin material are fused with foaming agents and reconstituted into a consistent sheet form ready for remanufacture.
While most flip-flops are made out of materials like rubber, foam or ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), the PLUSfoam technology, while still petro chemical-based, offers 100% recyclability.
According to PLUSfoam's Brett Ritter, the real difference is in the lifecycle of the product.
"It is just not possible today to achieve with EVA or rubber what we can do with PLUSfoam. People have a hard time believing it but, yeah, we are completely recyclable," he said.
He added that it also marks a major step towards proper stewardship for Patagonia.
"That progress isn't just evident in the recyclability of PLUSfoam products ... but also in the post-manufacturing process.
"There is no shortage of waste generated by your typical footwear factory, just think of all the scrap rubber or some such similar material that goes to the landfill or the incinerator after a run of flip-flops or shoe soles are cut out from the original layup sheet. We can take all that scrap and simply mash it back up and make more product from it."
He further claimed that the process results in around a 30% reduction in waste on the production side alone.
This is the latest initiative to come out of Patagonia's Common Threads scheme - thought to be a first in the global retail sector to embody mutual responsibility between company and customer for the full lifecycle of a product.
In 2011 the US-based retailer launched an acclaimed marketing initiative to encourage customers to repair, reuse and recycle items of clothing and equipment bought from its stores - effectively getting them to buy less.
Patagonia has also teamed up with eBay to develop its own online resell channel for customers.