Why Are Recycled-Content Products So Expensive?

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Portland-based Green Guru Gear makes bike gear, backpacks, wallets and other accessories from upcycled bicycle inner tubes and other used outdoor equipment. Photo: Green Guru Gear

Boulder, Colo.-based Green Guru Gear makes bike gear, backpacks, wallets and other accessories from upcycled bicycle inner tubes and other used outdoor equipment. Photo: Green Guru Gear

Here at Earth911, we often feature cool new products made from reclaimed or recycled materials. When we do, the most common question we hear from readers is, “Why are recycled-content products so expensive?”

We’re not the only ones who are asked this question. Sellers of upcycled wares say this is also one of the No. 1 queries they hear from customers, who wonder why the cost of clothing, accessories, home decor items and other household products always seems to be higher when picks are made from recycled materials.

“That’s probably one of the biggest things that we get when we’re out on the road,” says Justin Daugherty, VP of sales and operations for Green Guru Gear, a Boulder, Colo.-based company that makes products from upcycled outdoor equipment.

“Customers say, ‘Wow, the price should be half as much. Don’t you get this all for free?'” Daugherty says, mimicking common questions he hears from customers as they browse Green Guru Gear’s products, which are made from recycled bicycle inner tubes, wetsuits, climbing rope and other sporting goods.

Related: Green Guru Gear Gives Trashed Sports Equipment New Life

While it’s true that Green Guru Gear sources its materials through drop-off recycling programs at bike shops, climbing gyms and other outdoor retailers, getting the materials to its headquarters in Boulder is only the beginning.

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“Something that’s a little different with our material is that it’s dirty,” Daugherty says. “There is a process to get it to a state to where a normal fabric on a roll would be. If you saw the process and how dirty it is, it’s pretty intense.”

Like most reclaimed materials that come into the hands of upcycled sellers, the old athletic equipment Green Guru Gear uses for its products must first be washed, spruced up and sewn together before it can be made into new products. Needless to say, the process takes a great deal of time and – you guessed it – money.

“The cost of our materials, when you really get down to it, is higher than you’d think,” Daugherty explains. “Like a bike tube, if it’s sewn together for a backpack, probably costs about $4 to $5 a yard.”

“If you pulled off just regular nylon like most backpacks are made of on a roll, it’s an average of maybe $1.20 per yard.”

Mary Mazzoni

Based in the Phoenix metro area, Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.