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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: What Does It Really Mean?

This Monday it was Global Recycling Day, which is run by the Global Recycling Foundation and is now in its second year. Last week was reduce, reuse, recycle week on The Great British Sewing Bee. So what does the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” really mean when we apply it to sewing? It can be applied to all areas of life, but we want to take a moment to break down how it can apply to sewing, whether you are an individual or a business.We will take you through refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rethink, and how these concepts can apply to all areas of your sewing practice.


  • Refuse

You don’t need the things you don’t need.

    1. Resist the temptation of buying fabric that you haven’t got plans for.
    2. When you are out buying materials or haberdashery, bring your own bag so you don’t need a plastic bag. If you are shopping from a small business, they will be grateful for you having your own bag, too.
    3. If you are a business owner, you can refuse to accept the way things are ‘normally’ done. Does your supplier order come wrapped in bubble plastic but it doesn’t need it? Ask for it not to be.
    4. If you are a business owner, why not rethink how you package your parcels and leave out the things that you could live without. This will be an entirely personal choice, because we understand a lot of brand identity happens in your packaging, so do what feels right to you. We fold our fabrics, tie them up in twine (inherited from the Swedish side of our business), and package them in paper. We couldn’t bear the thought of plastic, but we were tempted by tissue paper because it’s so pretty! But we decided against it to wear our brand ethos on our sleeve, and only use a small amount of tissue paper in our wholesale orders to make sure our products don’t arrive looking scuffed.

  • Reduce

Reduce items and resources you already use.

    1. Switch off your machines when you are not using them: sewing machines, overlockers, irons, computers.
    2. Reduce your fabric waste by cutting out projects in the most economic way.
    3. Reduce the temperature on your washing cycles and maybe reduce how much you wash in the first place.
    4. Reduce your carbon footprint by shopping locally and buying from companies based in your country.
    5. If you are a business owner or an individual, take care of your equipment and machines so that they will last longer, which eliminates you having to buy new. Extending the lifetime of an item is the main aim of the game! Taking care of your equipment is also cheaper in the long term. Can you switch out a machine part to make it work again? Can you establish a routine where you sharpen your scissors, oil your machines and clean out the fluff in your overlockers? Investing in metal equipment over plastic equipment will also work in your favour in the long run, although it can sometimes be a bigger investment upfront.

  • Reuse

Use again in a different way, upcycle, switch out single use items.

    1. You can reuse fabric for so many different purposes, from making cleaning cloths to stuffing a pillow. Separate your fabric waste into pieces you can reuse and pieces that are too small.
    2. Reuse tissue paper, packaging, paper, rubber bands and ribbons where you can.
    3. Upcycle what you have in your sewing room or studio if it’s looking tired or no longer suits your style. Upcycling furniture can be a great way to set up a studio on a small budget.
    4. Do you have a bin in your studio with a bin bag? Consider whether you need the bin bag, which is a sneaky singe use item that most of us use without thinking twice.

  • Recycle

Transform a material into something new.

    1. Recycle your fabric scraps, materials, equipment and haberdashery you no longer need. You can see a previous blog post for lots of ideas and initiatives.
    2. Whenever you have received a package, make sure you separate your recycling into its appropriate categories. If you have a bubble wrap lined envelope, you will need to separate the paper envelope from the bubble wrap: the paper can go in your recycling bin, but the bubble wrap has to go in specialist recycling. If you have a plastic bag recycling point in your local supermarket, it can go in there.
    3. Plastic thread cones are made of polypropylene (or PP for short) and they can be recycled at dedicating recycling points. You will need to phone ahead to make sure they take them, as not all places do. The plastic film that most threads come wrapped in is recyclable at home.
    4. If you are a business owner, look for recyclable packaging solutions. Here at Selkie Patterns even our address labels are recyclable, and they are cheaper for us, too!

  • Rethink

Just because we have always done something in a certain way, doesn’t mean we have to continue doing it.

  1. Switch to recycled thread, or organic threads that come without plastic. Use metal zips, or non-plastic buttons. There are lots of business out there that are doing their bit and they may not be massive, so they may take some time to discover, but it’s worth it!
  2. Rethink your routine: can you collect all your fabric scraps, or all your thread cones, and deal with them in one go? This usually makes it easier for you and for others. Less hassle = more chance you will actually do it.
  3. Rethink your buying habits: can you buy less, buy second hand, or not buy it at all?
  4. Think twice about what you are sending out in the world as a business owner. Does your responsibility stop as soon as your product has left the building, or can you educate your customer on aftercare?
  5. Have fun learning about your own habits and improving the areas you care most about. You are much more likely to rethink a habit if you genuinely care. It can be for different reasons: financial, environmental, aesthetic, future generations, animal welfare.


Now you can go and refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle with confidence!

Team Selkie

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