While the world has yet to adopt waste-free and non-polluting manufacturing practices on a wide scale, it is possible to ramp up recycling of waste and make a significant difference in how resources are used and reused. Recycling also helps in cleaning up neighbourhoods and communities, improves quality of life, and creates sustainable, long-term jobs. Where there are people, there will inevitably be waste – and the opportunity to clean it up and use it again.
By turning to recycling for profit and income, innovators can find themselves joining a global market estimated to be worth US$400 billion (UNEP). The global market for scrap metal and paper alone is worth US$30 billion (World Bank).
As an example of the possibilities, fashion recycling and so-called “upcycling” – in which waste materials are turned into new materials or better-quality products – is already a major trend around the world. In Great Britain, for example, 2 million tonnes of textiles are thrown away every year, with 24 per cent recycled and 10 per cent upcycled.
Issue 5 of Southern Innovator features fashion recycling and upcycling pioneers from around the world who are showing how recycling can work and create sustainable incomes. It also includes innovators turning the scourge of plastic bags into useful, everyday items. Others are taking waste cooking oil, which is often just thrown away, and making biofuel. What they all share is the ability to derive an income, and create jobs, from recycling waste.