Upcycling entrepreneurs turn discarded firehoses into handbags
Gary Parkinson
It takes a leap of logic to get from firehoses to luxury goods. /Elvis & Kresse

It takes a leap of logic to get from firehoses to luxury goods. /Elvis & Kresse


We should all strive to recycle more, but that shouldn't be our highest aim.

The European Union's waste policy is based on the principles of the Waste Hierarchy, and recycling is only the third-best option. At the top is prevention – reducing the amount of waste we create at all, whether it's then processed by incineration, landfill or recycling.

Prevention requires goodwill from consumers (without whose purchases, production would tail off) and governments (for instance, banning unnecessary packaging).


The waste hierarchy. /James Sandifer

The waste hierarchy. /James Sandifer


The second level of the hierarchy is reuse. A growing number of people around the world are investigating innovative ways to reuse materials and to ease the waste-disposal burden.

Reuse depends on innovation, and one leftfield idea that has proven popular is the repurposing of firehoses to handbags. That's quite a leap of the imagination from Kresse Wesling, co-founder of "sustainable and ethical luxury" manufacturer Elvis & Kresse – and she thanks her childhood family trips to the dump, back home in Canada. 


FIrehose handbags

"I remember seeing so many things that I didn't understand why they were there," Wesling recalls. "At the time, you could leave with things, and that's something that I wish happened more, because we have enough resources in the world that just don't tend to be in the right places."

That curiosity extended into adulthood, when she moved to the UK in 2004 and discovered the country sent 100 million tonnes of waste per year to landfill. 


Waste is an existential crisis, but hope comes from action.
 -  Kresse Wesling of ethical luxury goods firm Elvis & Kresse

"I started going to landfill sites to have a look, and that's where I saw my first firehose," she recalls. Meeting the London Fire Brigade, Wesling was told that it dumps three to 10 tonnes per year of damaged, decommissioned firehose – and she seized an opportunity to make a difference. 

"We transform them into a range of accessories – bags, wallets – and 50 percent of the profits go to the firefighters' charity," she explains. And that set the template for Elvis & Kresse, which now sells more than 10,000 items annually: "We rescue materials that would otherwise go to landfill, we transform them into beautiful things, and then we donate 50 percent of the profits to charity."


Firehoses can be repurposed into wallets and handbags. /Elvis & Kresse

Firehoses can be repurposed into wallets and handbags. /Elvis & Kresse


Wesling is understandably proud that no London firehoses have gone to landfill since Elvis & Kresse got going, with more than 100 tonnes reclaimed. The company is now working with other waste products, including rejected military parachute panels and tea bags, as part of a determined effort to create a circular economy. 

"Waste is an existential crisis," she says. "Climate change is the same, rising inequality is the same – they're all incredibly difficult problems, but if you just pretend they're not happening, then they'll continue to happen. 

"Hope comes from action. I would be very depressed and hopeless and pessimistic if I did nothing, whereas every day we're taking action it fills us with hope and optimism – and the ability to go out the next day and tackle something else."


Firehoses can also be repurposed into wallets. /Elvis & Kresse

Firehoses can also be repurposed into wallets. /Elvis & Kresse

This story is part of the CGTN Europe Trash or Treasure special – a look at the challenges, innovations and solutions around Europe's waste disposal.

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