All our products below carry third party certifications, equivalent eco labels or are made from upcycled and recycled material. So, let’s start there – with some of the great upcycled and recycled products we’ve found.

If you’re unfamiliar with upcycling, the process takes used materials and creates new items of equal or greater value. The opposite of downcycling, which produces lesser quality items, upcycling can be as simple as creating higher quality items from trash and used goods. With all of those plastic bottles laying around, new products are just waiting to be created. With a little ingenuity, the possibilities are endless.

Eco-chic handbags

One company that finds new uses for discarded juice boxes, magazines, newspapers and phone books is Urthbags. These eco-chic handbags come in many different styles and are all handmade from recycled and salvaged materials. Founder Monica Ralli’s plan for UrthBags is “…to constantly work towards sourcing additional materials that have been tossed aside as useless trash. The more consumers purchase eco-friendly and recycled products, the greater the demand will be for them.” I got myself an Urthbag made of recycled magazines and can’t tell you how many comments I get everywhere I go. People literally stop me on the street to ask me where I got my bag. My eight (going on 20) year old daughter absolutely loves her Urthbags clutch made of recycled juice boxes – it’s incredibly chic and you would never know it was made of, well, garbage!

Upcycled Backpacks

The process by which companies upcycle could differ. For example Bennu, a new company which uses recycled plastic bottles to make backpacks, has a six step process: collect, shred, form, extrude, weave and create. This philosophy essentially involves taking an item, disassembling it, cleaning it, and putting it to new use. Bennu closes the recycling loop, by incorporating market development into the “chasing arrows.” This means, transforming recycled raw materials into new products.

“Without this critical final stage, the recycling system is incomplete,” said Ashok Kamal, co-founder of Bennu. “All you have is warehouses filled with bales of crushed recycled plastic. Its form has slightly changed from the bottle you recycled at home, but the outcome is still trash. The recycling loop is completed only when a new product enters the marketplace to be purchased by a consumer. Bennu focuses on this final stage of recycling by designing and marketing practical, stylish products that give a new life to old waste.”

Now that both of my kids’ backpacks have fallen apart beyond repair, I plan to buy two of these backpacks for the new school year in the fall. I’ll be getting the Sol Greenpack for my daughter and the “green it.” pack for my son. I’ll let you know how we like them!

Clothes Made of Recycled Plastic

Another excellent use of plastic recycling is the manufacturing of eco-friendly clothing while using plastic bottles, as Atayne – pronounced ‘attain’ – has done for the past three years. The company, which is a certified B Corporation, uses these bottles in fabric construction, and uses 70 percent less energy than conventionally produced fabrics made from petroleum. Since the primary fabric used for their performance gear is recycled polyester derived from plastic bottles, for every short-sleeve top that they make, Atayne saves 8-12 bottles from ending up in a landfill.

For Atayne, whose tagline is Performance With a Point of View, people and the planet come before making a profit. The company’s mission focuses on creating athletic gear that is both sensitive to the environment and safe for athletes – “compromise nothing, attain anything.” The clothing is comparable and performs just as well as any other conventional athletic garment. It wicks away moisture from the skin and dries quickly, making any run or hike that much more comfortable. The clothes are also not tested in a lab…who likes to run in a lab, anyway?? They are tested by athletes in real situations; whether it’s on an eight mile run, a treacherous trek to a goal peak, or even through a long, sweaty yoga session. For real testimonials by real athletes who perform in the real world, click here.

“We are about creating a community of people who believe they can make a positive difference in the world by doing what they love – running, cycling, hiking, cross country skiing, yoga, etc.,” said founder Jeremy Litchfield. “As far as I am concerned, I do not need to convince people to switch (from other brands to ours). Either people get Atayne or they don’t. For those who get it, there is no convincing. For the people who need convincing, there are still the Nikes and Under Armours of the world.”

Another thing that I found really unique about Atayne was its Volunteer Product Developer Program, which ‘crowdsources’ by letting customers test products and vote for new designs, or even submit some of their own ideas. For its Grind T Cycling Jersey, Atayne gathered customers’ votes on the best design, graphics and logo for the new product, and announced a winner based on these votes.

If you are not an athlete (that’d be me) and don’t need performance clothing, but are still looking for something comfortable that’s also environmentally friendly, look no further than Repair the World. Offering similar methods of using recycled cotton and polyester from plastic bottles, RTW focuses on the people, profits and planet. Their apparel items are colored using colored cotton scraps and textile waste that go unused during manufacturing processes. This way, no new dyes need to be used. “This helps to reduce demand for oil, water, chemicals, arable land and energy. Plus, our finishing process is only one third that of the conventional dye and finishing cycle, which equates to a 60-65 percent reduction of water and energy,” as stated on RTW’s Web site. The Reparel Sloungewear pants are super comfy and have become my favorite clothes to lounge around in.

The Google of Garbage

A pioneer in upcycling has been TerraCycle. Called the Google of garbage by The Telegraph, the company started producing organic fertilizer by packaging liquid worm poop in used soda bottles. Since then, the idea has grown to include products ranging from kites to boomboxes.Unfortunately we can’t carry their products on EcoPlum since they have an exclusive online seller, but we’d be remiss in not mentioning them in an article about upcycling.

If you’re intrigued by these companies, which strive to create a more sustainable future and planet, but are hesitant to make a purchase because of perceived higher prices, don’t worry. These eco-friendly options, created by upcycling old products or reusing raw materials, are just as affordable as most other items on the market. In fact, some might even be cheaper, depending on the kind of product. One thing is for certain, no matter what you buy, you can feel good about doing so.