The classic Swedish "Kånken" backpack hasn't changed very much since it was first designed for schoolchildren in 1978, with one new exception: Now it comes in a version made from recycled plastic water bottles.
"Our goal was to create a version of the iconic daypack that has as little of an environmental footprint as possible," says Henrik Andersson, head of innovation and design at the bag's manufacturer, Fjällräven.
They decided to make the entire bag—including the lining and shoulder straps—from recycled plastic. One of the backpacks, called the Re-Kånken, uses 11 former plastic bottles; a mini version uses nine bottles.
"While this required some work, it was not as challenging as anticipated," he says. "As it turns out, the system of turning old plastic bottles into good quality weaves is a mature and precise manufacturing process that is available to us today."
The next step was incorporating a dye process that uses fewer chemicals and less water and energy. The color is added at the beginning, before the plastic pellets are turned into yarn. While it was challenging to perfect, the company says the choices had real impact: the new bags use 75% less water, 67% less chemicals and 39% less energy in manufacturing, and trimmed 20% off the carbon footprint of the original.
When the bag wears out, because all of the parts are made from the same material, it can be returned to a retail store and recycled into new fabric. Fjällräven is also hoping that cities will also start recycling synthetic fabrics, so people can eventually just drop an old bag in a local recycling bin.
The company wants to begin using the fabric in other products, as long as the new designs can match the performance and durability of the originals. "It may take some time, but in the future we do hope to replace nylon with recycled plastic in all of our backpacks," says Andersson.
[Photos: via Fjällräven]
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