4 Circular Economy Initiatives For Recycled Denim

Every eco-warrior has an Achilles’ Heel, and some of them are clad in denim. For those of use who live in our jeans, the resource-heavy nature of denim production, and the lack of good options for recycling denim and old jeans has been a thorn in the side, or maybe a brass rivet. But several companies are embracing the joys of recycling blue jeans and making it easy for us to join them.

#1 Levi-Strauss has put recycling bins in all their retail stores, and they accept old clothes and shoes in exchange for a discount coupon for a single purchase (yippee! Buy more jeans!). They are partnering with I:CO, a global company that is working toward open circular textile recycling systems by facilitating the flow of materials into the system. This program is part of Levi-Strauss’ broader efforts to bring a sustainable, regenerative circular economy to their company.

#2 Blue Jeans Go Green is a company that facilitates local denim recycling efforts by partnering with colleges, community groups, retailers, and other groups. They have targeted collection, like denim drives, and the jeans collected are turned into Ultratouch denim insulation. The insulation is given to Habitat for Humanity affiliates and other civic building organizations that can apply through the website. The system is particularly effective for community organizations and schools to get involved and excited about recycling.  

#3 Art & Upcycling: Because denim is so sturdy and stays so beautiful, it has long been a favorite material of fiber artists and upcyclers. Several organizations, such as The Denim Project, are providing support, assistance, and marketing help for women to upcycle denim into new products, such as aprons, toys, diaper covers, and the like. The Denim Project is based in the US and Haiti, and is designed to provide vocational opportunities for women.

#4 For the Crafter: Blue jeans that can no longer be worn can be collected over time and turned into quilts, rugs, and, for the very adventurous, recycled denim yarn. Long strips of denim are cut from jeans up the length of the legs, about an inch and a half in width. Pieces are collected, and the ends are sewn together to make a long strip. Roll the strip into a large ball, or several large balls, to make the project easier to manage. Using a 19 mm or larger wooden crochet hook, make a foundation chain as long as you want the rug; four feet is a good starting size. Use a half-double crochet stitch, and two singles to turn the rows. Work loosely to make the crocheting easier; the rug will firm up after washing. Weave in the ends, and you have a rectangular rug that is thick, sturdy, machine washable, and will last forever underfoot.