Ever heard the quote "Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed"? Or the expression "You can't make something new out of something old"? In fact, supra-recycling meets the first quote and belies the second. It's a relatively new term that emerged in the mid-90s and often goes by other common names such as upcycling, upcycling, trancycling and recycling. In 2011, the Office de la langue québécois de la langue française ruled on "suprarecycling" as a recognized terminology.
Supra-recycling is the action of recovering materials or products whose original use is no longer desired or possible, and transforming them into something new and of superior utility. In other words, we recycle "from the top down".
There's an undeniable ecological aspect to supra-recycling. Instead of throwing away an object that has not necessarily reached the end of its useful life, we give it a new lease of life by allowing it to be transformed and used again, while still being of superior quality to the original material.
Most DIY (do-it-yourself) projects are inspired by supra-recycling and are very much on trend. Pinterest is an endless source of inspiration for this type of project. It can also involve art, building materials, stuffing... This trend can also be seen in clothing, both at the level of creative artisans and larger-scale companies.
Supra-recycling and textiles
When it comes to clothing, there are 3 main ways to do this. The first is to use scraps of fabric that would most likely go straight into the garbage. These are used, for example, to make new garments or other utilitarian tools such as dishcloths, rags, reusable snack bags...
The second way of upcycling is to take garments from the same textile and subject them to a defibering process. De-fibering involves extracting the fiber from a fabric, such as that found in a garment, to create a new textile. Garments made from similar raw materials are shredded, the fibers are re-threaded and new, brand-new textiles are created.
This second way of supra-recycling is similar to the process of creating recycled polyester. However, it involves taking plastic bottles that end up in recycling centers and transforming them into recycled polyester through an extrusion and spinning process.
The third technique involves taking clothes, salvaging the parts that are still good, and making new garments from the recovered pieces. For example, an eco-designer or recycling craftsman might take pieces of several garments that are still in very good condition and create a completely new garment. He or she can add pieces of new fabric to complete the look. The garments created in this way become one-of-a-kind pieces.
How textile supra-recycling works in Quebec
According to Recyc-Québec, the average Quebecer buys 27 kg of textiles per year and throws away 24 kg... So there's no shortage of opportunities for supra-recycling here!
Certain infrastructures have been put in place to prevent clothing from going directly into the garbage. Companies like Ekotex and the charity Certex are just two examples. Both are clothing sorting centers where the aim is to reuse raw materials and where, among other things, eco-designers can source textiles.
Defibers are also available in the province. However, they focus mainly on stuffing and insulation products and very little on the creation of textiles for clothing use. Research groups are working to maximize the defibration process and reconstitute high-quality textiles, in order to make it more economically viable and ensure the quality of the resulting textiles. Across the country, there are a multitude of eco-designers practicing supra-recycling using one or more of the above techniques.
Despite all the great initiatives available to us as consumers, despite knowing that textile fibers are both recyclable and reusable, and already having some facilities in place to do so, it's estimated that 85% of all fabric consumed ends up in the garbage can. This brings us back to the basic ecological concept that must be prioritized above all others: REDUCING our consumption.