Upcycling Biz Turning Discards Into Dollars

Scott Hamlin can rattle off environmental data with a professor’s familiarity.

It takes at least 400 gallons of water to make a T-shirt. Textile waste makes up at least 5 percent of U.S. landfills. As much as 4,500 pounds of leather can be discarded daily from one manufacturer. The Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth-largest lake, is 90 percent dry because its tributaries were diverted for growing cotton.

But Hamlin is no academic. He is the co-founder and co-owner of Looptworks, a Portland company that searches warehouses in Asia where fabrics go to die. The company reclaims material that ends up unused after apparel companies discard giant rolls for any number of reasons.

Looptworks purchases the material and turns it into shirts, skirts, laptop sleeves and backpacks.

It’s called “upcycling,” a cousin of recycling. Upcycling makes barely a dent in the larger issue of unused material, called “pre-consumer waste.” But it makes a difference. That unused material sometimes is resold but often ends up in a landfill or an incinerator.

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