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Responsibility is More Than Recycling

List of materials bought at a recycling collection center from our supply chain in Honduras.

This quarter we celebrated Earth Day, Arbor Day, and Thread’s Q2 strategic planning meeting (Guess which of these was the most fun?).  A lot of days designated to the preservation of our earth, which is a noble cause worth celebrating.

One of the easiest ways to be involved at the consumer level in the green movement is through recycling. It’s so easy – just rinse out all those plastic containers you use and put them in a bin right next to your trashcan. Then your municipality comes and takes them away.  Please, keep doing that. And if you’re not, please start, it is simple.

There’s also the opportunity to buy goods that are made from recycled materials. That’s been a big thing in the last couple of years, with major brands like Coke and Levis jumping on the recycled content bandwagon.

Unfortunately, responsibility needs to extend beyond recycling. Especially at the consumer level.

I’m sure some of you are thinking: Wait a minute. You’re telling me that besides paying more for fair-trade and trying to keep track of whether my quinoa consumption is ruining the world, now it’s not good enough to just recycle? 

That’s right. It’s not. You can and should do better.

We live in this hyper-connected world, and recycling is a dirty business. Of course it is. It is literally dealing with trash.  Recycling is groovy, right? It’s re-using materials instead of precious natural resources. It’s keeping huge volumes out of landfills.  It’s a multi-billion dollar industry creating jobs and industry around the globe. Recycling is great! That’s true, except that not all recycling is equal or good.

The more I work in this space, the more time I come across heartbreaking articles like this one. Or read books on the un-regulated hazardous working conditions of plastics recycling in China.  Recycling isn’t worth dying of cancer in your twenties. It’s not worth keeping stuff out of our landfills just to turn far away villages into dumps.

I’ve also become sensitive to claims of ‘recycled content’ in products. To meet certain 3rd party certification standards, only 5% of a final product is required to come from recycled content in order to call that product recycled. In addition, the majority of recycled content in final products comes from industrial seconds as opposed to being post-consumer waste, which is how we traditionally think about recycling. There are some sustainability experts out there who won’t even count industrial seconds as recycled content since it was never used for it’s intended life cycle.

That is why we have this obsession with Ground to Good at Thread. Because we know the conditions of our supply chain from the moment someone picks up a bottle. We know that by supporting responsible recycling, we are making lives better. Not just offering a way to eke out an existence cut short from inhaling carcinogens every day.

So, the next time you have the opportunity to buy something made from recycled material, I want you to wonder where that recycled content came from. I want you to wonder who collected it, separated it, and reformed it into the thing you want to buy. I want you to be aware of the possibility that buying something recycled may not be any more noble than purchasing garments made in unsafe sweatshops.

I also want you to know that when you buy goods made with Thread’s fabric, you are being responsible. You are supporting dignified work. And economic growth. And lessening the impact of plastic pollution on our planet. I want you to know I can prove it to you and even introduce you to those people doing that work.

The green movement is wonderful, but not at the expense of the people living on this planet.

Responsibility is more than recycling.

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