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Jeans that Are Easier to Recycle?

What's in your closet?

Upcycled and not, riveted and not, my pile of jeans.

While reading a story about fashion and reducing its carbon footprint in Nature magazine, I began down a wonderful rabbit hole and came upon the Facilitating a Circular Economy around Textiles Workshop Report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). AND in this report was information about making jeans easier to recycle into new textiles.

Work has been going on for the last few years in England, and companies involved just might surprise you! For a fuller report - check out this link. But read on for a quick highlight of work going on around the world to make resource-hungry jeans more recyclable.

How? In this case - less is more.

Think Metal & Rivets

  • How many of the jeans in your closet have metal rivets at the pockets?

  • How many have a metal button?

We think of these features as part of the iconic look of jeans. But there is a darker side to these accents - it makes recycling the textile much more difficult. Whatever we do that slows down a process to return fiber into yarn to be used again is a barrier to creating circular economies around clothing.

We already know that growing cotton requires LOTS of water and often pesticides.
Processing the cotton into jeans also uses water, and the dyeing process is polluting waterways in many countries.
So, if jeans were created with an eye on recycling, this could lessen the resource load by enabling recyclable rather than disposable jeans.

How can companies create classic jeans to be tough and rugged but without these metal accents? Typically that's a challenge, but things are changing.

The Ellen Macarthur Foundation created the circular fashion Jeans Redsign challenge, asking brands to join up and try redesigning their jeans to meet the sustainable, circular standards the Foundation had devised.

What are those standards? Check out a full description here. But for now I'll give you a shortened version:

  • Durable design - meet all standards after at least 30 washings.

  • Have labels that clearly review product care.

  • Fabrics need to be from organic, recycled, or from regenerative or transitioning farms and cellulose (think crop fibers). (>=98% of material).

  • Metal rivets not part of design (or very minimal).

  • Any additional materials must be easily removed (so in this case - lycra woven in the fabric would be a no-no).

  • Provide traceable information for all standards to be able to use the Jeans Redesign logo. (This means tracing materials back to the farm through production.)

  • The Jeans Redesign logo will be a sign to shoppers that the jeans they are purchasing meet these standards & that standards are reassessed annually.

List of Jean Redesign Participants from Ellen Macarthur Foundation 2-year Report (link above)

Companies around the world are working to create jeans that are more recyclable. Don't get too excited - Vogue just put out an article stating that fashion brands are not even meeting their anemic commitments to cleaning up their act - but we can celebrate this good news about jeans without stopping advocating about needed legislation.

We can also play our individual part at home by repairing older jeans before getting a new pair - upcycling is always an option, too!

But the next time you do venture out to get jeans and can't find any at your resale store, think about purchasing from a company shown above without those metal rivets and look for the Jeans Redesign tag. Then you'll know you are seeking out a pair that can be added back into a circular economy.


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