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Delta upcycling 350k pounds of 'retired uniforms' into travel bags, passport covers

Eric Mandel  
A Delta Airlines bag made from recycled uniforms
Source: Delta Airlines

Delta's massive uniform overhaul isn't quite done yet, as the Atlanta-based airline is partnering on what it calls the "largest single company textile diversion programs in U.S. history."

As part of a multi-billion dollar companywide makeover, Delta Air Lines Inc. outfitted its 64,000 employees in new uniforms on May 29. That meant "retirement" of more than one million pieces from old uniforms, which typically would be sent to landfills. Instead, Delta said it partnered with Portland-based manufacturer Looptworks to "upcycle" and repurpose more than 350,000 pounds of clothing, which is being used to create items such as backpacks, passport covers and accessories.

"The amount of textile waste generated each year in the United States has doubled over the last 20 years, and we won't add to that number," said Ekrem Dimbiloglu, Delta's director for uniforms, in a news release. "By partnering with Looptworks, we found a creative way to give the old uniforms a new life."

After the uniform launch, which included both highs and lows, Delta placed collection boxes in more than 90 airports, and in the coming days Looptworks will work to transform any retired pieces that cannot be donated or reused through upcycling or down-cycling. (The difference is explained here).

Delta said leather from retired aircraft seats will also be upcycled and woven into select products included in the Delta collection, which will be available for purchase this October.

Delta also upcycled the prototypes uniforms used for wear-testing to re:loom, an Atlanta organization, where weavers designed and produced handmade products such as rugs and keychains.

More than 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated each year in the U.S., and the decomposing textiles release methane, while the dyes and chemicals in the fabrics leach into the soil, which contributes to habitat degradation. Delta said that in this textile diversion program, no items will go to landfills or incineration.

"The value of this collaboration goes beyond waste diversion and the reuse of upcycled items. It also conserves a significant amount of water and eliminates carbon emissions," said Looptworks CEO Scott Hamlin.

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