This article was written for NoCamels by ZAVIT – Science and Environment in Israel.
In an era where single-use materials are both mass-produced and mass-consumed, reducing, reusing, and recycling those materials is crucial to prevent further environmental harm from waste mismanagement.
By 2017, the EU had managed to recycle 46 percent of its municipal waste and 67 percent of its packaging waste. Israel may be lagging behind, with a recycling rate of 24 percent as of 2018, but has set an ambitious goal to more than double its recycling drive by 2030 despite the regulatory shortfalls.
To this end, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MoEP) formulated a new waste treatment strategy as of February 2021 to achieve a reduction of landfilling to 20 percent by 2030 from its current 80 percent rate. To comply with the plan, 51 percent of total waste must be recycled. Moreover, 23 percent of waste will be treated at energy recovery facilities, whereas only 26 percent of waste will be landfilled, according to the ministry’s plans.
To sustainably and efficiently manage waste, organizations and companies are adopting and integrating a number of end-of-life solutions for their products such as recycling and upcycling. Israel-based organization KitePride is one of them.
From Recycling to Upcycling
While recycling involves facility processes to convert waste into new, ready-to-use-again materials, upcycling is using the material in its current state to create a higher-quality product for an alternative purpose, without the need for a facility.
KitePride is a sustainable fashion organization that upcycles a variety of recreational beach gear such as kitesurfing kites, sails, parachutes, and wetsuits into various types of bags, laptop sleeves, COVID-19 masks, and even kippot. Founded by Swiss couple Tabea and Matthew Oppliger, the organization employs over a dozen people in its Tel Aviv workspace.
The idea is simple: Instead of throwing away a worn-down kite, KitePride provides kite surfers with an opportunity to save their equipment – just in a different, multi-purpose form.
“A lot of people don’t like to throw the kite away because they traveled the world with it and spent a lot of money on it. They don’t want to throw it away––not just for environmental reasons, but because they feel connected to it,” says Jackie Ashkenasi, KitePride’s marketing and sales manager.
KitePride currently has several depositing locations around Israel in schools, churches, and kitesurfing shops in addition to their international dropoff points throughout Cyprus, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, and the US. Although the kitesurfing community is small, KitePride is the only business of its kind.
“We created a connection with the kitesurfing community here in Israel, mostly through Facebook groups and WhatsApp groups and then through the different shops and brands that work here,” Ashkenasi adds.
Sustainable Fashion vs. Fast Fashion
All of KitePride’s products are retrofitted by hand; single-handedly sewed and stitched as a way to usher in sustainability into an otherwise wasteful fashion industry, infamously known for its outlandish production rates and needless overconsumption.
In fact, in less than two decades the production of new clothing doubled from 50 billion garments in 2000 to 100 billion in 2014. This comes as a result of multiple fast-fashion chains increasing the number of collections they offer to maximize profits throughout a single year, which used to average out between two and five collections annually. Now, fashion industry giants like H&M release 12-16 collections per year, and Zara launches a new collection on a practically biweekly basis––that’s 24 collections per year. With lower prices incentivizing consumers to purchase more than they actually need, clothes are now worn for half as long as they were in 2002, meaning that the majority of our wardrobe ultimately winds up in a landfill within three years.
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To make matters worse, some of the most harrowing statistics show that manufacturing a single pair of jeans emits as much greenhouse gas as driving a car 80 miles and producing a single cotton shirt requires 2,700 liters of water – two and a half years worth of drinking water for the average person.
For these reasons, KitePride and other similar organizations around the world urge consumers to take on a ‘less is more’ approach.
Luckily, more than 90 brands have signed on to the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action in 2018 to collectively reduce greenhouse gas emission by 30 percent by 2030 and a year later, 60 companies representing 200 brands –about a third of the global fashion industry — signed onto the Fashion Pact in the effort to restore biodiversity and protect ocean habitats.
It’s a step in the right direction but taking on a more sustainable business model comes with the added task of balancing production with demand.
KitePride produces in small quantities as orders come in and refrains from overproducing to avoid creating a surplus of unsold products.
Ashkenasi estimated that in the past year, KitePride upcycled 712 kites into 10,148 products. Since its initial founding in 2018, KitePride boasts over 28,000 hours of safe rehabilitation employment, over 26,000 one-of-a-kind KitePride products made from over 15,000 m² of upcycled material that would have otherwise been landfilled.
Sustainability is at the core of KitePride’s values and extends to its eco-friendly work environment. Recycled products are used in place of single-use plastic items, and practically everything that can be environmentally friendly is.
“The main thing is to not create trash in the beginning,” Ashkenasi says. “At the office we have shared meals; when someone cooks, we eat together. If we have paper we don’t use, we cut it up and use small pieces.”
As the organization look towards expansion, it is currently hoping to reach a formal agreement with the IDF to upcycle old parachutes that can no longer be used for training and military purposes.
The Social Angle
Although environmental considerations are highly valued at KitePride, the organization has a second important mission: a dedication to provide safe rehabilitative employment for men, women, and minors formerly trapped in human trafficking and prostitution rings. According to the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, there are roughly 14,000 individuals in this line of work in Israel, and most said they feel trapped because of their lack of employment skills, finances, and education.
“Our number one goal is social. It is about creating rehabilitation employment for people exiting prostitution,” says Ashkenasi. “To do so, we need a brand––we need a product, and the more our brand and product are successful, the more we can actually grow and create more jobs.”
Because the bags are handmade, a large part of the management job requires training employees in skills like sewing and operating equipment. Although challenging, Ashkenasi sees this as a prime opportunity to aid employees in developing skill sets previously outside their wheelhouse.
By bridging the gap between social hardships and the environment, KitePride is living proof that organizations consumers can embrace sustainability one industry at a time.