How Is Recycled Rubber A Sustainable Material?
We all want to make a difference in the world with our art, especially in an industry where self-expression is everything - but what about sustainability? In a world where climate change threatens our very existence, we must find new ways of making our businesses more sustainable (which is what we're all about at Offset Warehouse!).
One approach is to get on board with ethical textiles and materials in your work. Another is to recycle or upcycle materials. In this article I wanted to explore the intriguing use of upcycling and reusing rubber from old tyres - could you get on board with old tyres?
A Brief History of Tyres
...and it's more interesting than it sounds!
This may be hard to believe but the very first tyres were not made of rubber at all, they were simply metal, bent to fit around a wooden frame. As the automobile industry changed, so did the tyres. After the metal wheel, came the use of rubber, but different from the rubber tyres we know today, as these tyres were totally solid.
Finally, in 1888 the pneumatic tyre was born. Pneumatic is a term used for the type of tyre we all use today, like the ones above. The tyre is a doughnut-shaped body of cords and wires encased in rubber, then filled with compressed air to form an inflatable cushion. This advanced tyre offers more durability and shock protection on almost any terrain, and are used in all types of vehicles.
Today, there are approximately 1 billion tyres produced every year, and around 400 factories that produce them.
While the invention of the modern tyre has improved the performance of both bicycles and automobiles, they can pose a problem at the end of their use. Tyres contain a number of chemicals that are deemed unsafe when placed in the ground as they threaten water supplies. The volume of space they take up also makes them highly undesirable in landfills. It is estimated that 250 million tyres will be scrapped in the US annually - around half will be burned for their fuel value.
In the 1970's large numbers of used tyres were placed in oceans around the world Florida, New York, California, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. The hope was that they would create artificial reefs and would encourage new life to grow on them - sounds like a great reuse idea - but unfortunately it didn't work and the unstable nature of the tires caused even more damage to existing reefs. Now there is a lot of action to try to remove the tyres. Off the coast of Florida 1 - 2 million tyres were dropped in the ocean! They are hoping to retrieve 700,000 of these and limit any more damage being done. It just goes to show how much thought needs to go into the mass disposal of such widely used products.
It's not all bad though. These days a large number of tyres are recycled. Some are broken down into mulch or chippings and used to create that 'bouncy' floor effect you often get on athletic tracks and playgrounds. They can also be used as building materials and are often used on eco homes - check out Earthships if you're interested in sustainable architecture. Some are also re-made into new tyres.
Designing A Sustainable Solution
Most excitingly for us, there is a large movement of creative individuals using tyres for the creation of new usable products. Everything from furniture, to flower pots.
In the fashion world, we are seeing more designers think outside the box and use recycled rubber from car and bike tyres. Designers are taking advantage of the unique look of rubber, but its durability and versatility as well. Some products being made include: purses, bags, belts, wallets, makeup bags, hats, soles of shoes, and now even apparel. Here are the most fashion forward and innovative brands we love at Offset Warehouse.
Having discovered her gorgeous wares at a sustainable festival in London some years ago, we're longtime fans of Katcha Bilek! Katcha began her incredible upcycling business back in 2008. Inspired by her travels across Europe in a fire engine, Katcha Bilek started her now global business right from the back of that very fire engine. We're coveting her beautiful Ade Backpack - sustainable, fashion forward and long lasting - could this be the perfect bag?!
Companies like the innovative Segra Segra (or ‘sister, sister’ in Czech), are pioneering ways of using recycled inner tubes in their clothing designs. Windbreakers, shirts, trousers and more, all with accents of reflective material. Their motto is "Fashion For The Urban Cyclist." A clever way of appealing to their target market through the use of materials, offering urban cyclists visibility, sustainability and fashion sensibility all at once.
The story behind Alchemy Goods is a rather heartwarming one. On their website founder and keen cyclist Eli tells the story of how his perfect messenger bag was sadly stolen. He searched high and low to buy a new one but couldn't find what he was looking for. He then had the ingenious idea to make his own - using a material he had in abundance in his apartment - broken inner tubes! The bag was a success and he started to get orders from his friends for more. It grew and grew and now Alchemy Goods is hugely successful company producing a vast range of accessories from inner tubes in Seattle, sourcing them from local bike shops and further afield!
Aria Handmade, designer Nestor Pineda, has taken the aesthetic in a different way, appealing to a broader target market. They have created everyday accessories like belts, wallets, handbags, and jewellery but all with a rubbery twist - you wouldn't even realise most of them were recycled tyres! We absolutely love the Urban Fossil Collection mixing rubber and reclaimed leather to create unique designs.
If you haven't already checked them out, you should! One World Projects is a fantastic organisation. Calling themselves a "Global Marketplace for Socially and Environmentally Responsible Gifts", they source products from all over the world providing local artisans with economic opportunities to support themselves and their families by selling their wares on a global platform. Their work supports over 11,000 artisans! The stylish rubber tyre hand bags are created by Uca Ruffatti, an artisan group based in El Salvador with over 20 years of experience creating hand bags and accessories.
Why It Matters
Besides being a greater friend to the environment as a whole, finding a way for your company to utilize this, or other recyclable products like it will actually help your company. Firstly, it is a cheap and (virtually) endless supply of a material that you can use in a myriad of ways. In some cases, you can get hold of it for free! Which will have a direct impact on your bottom line.
Secondly, inventing a way to incorporate this material in your work sets you apart form other boring designers. Not only will the image of your designs improve with the responsible change, but your designs in clothes or accessories will take on an exciting edge. Be different!
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