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Airline upcycles old uniforms

Projects | November 1, 2018 | By:

Delta worked with Looptworks to upcycle old uniforms. Upcycling, the process of reusing materials to make them new materials or products with added value, is proving to be a better environmental choice than traditional recycling or downcycling. Downcycling requires a process to break down waste to form it into something new; upcycling uses the discarded materials as they are. Photo: Delta Air Lines Inc. via Flickr.

Last May, when Delta Airlines introduced new uniforms created by fashion designer Zac Posen for its 64,000 employees, the company had to decide what to do with the old clothing—more than one million pieces of uniforms adding up to 350,000 pounds. Delta found a unique way to give the old uniforms new life: it partnered with Looptworks, a Portland, Ore.-based business that upcycles or repurposes abandoned, pre-consumer and post-consumer materials into limited edition products.

Often, textile-recycling projects involve recycling some fabric parts and selling the rest as incineration fuel. Working with Looptworks, Delta prevented items from going to landfills or incineration, making the project one of the largest single company textile diversion programs in U.S. history.

To collect the old uniforms, Delta put collection boxes at more than 90 cities in the system. Looptworks worked with Portland-based Relay Resources, which creates employment opportunities for refugees, workers with disabilities and those who use English as a second language; and Atlanta’s Bobby Dodd Institute, which employs people with disabilities and disadvantages, to help sort, deconstruct and warehouse donations.

The used uniforms are being repurposed in a number of ways. Items in good condition will be donated for those in need, and some pieces will be recycled into items including home insulation and pet bed stuffing. Looptworks will upcycle the textiles into backpacks, passport covers and other bags and accessories. For more information, visit

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