The original article appeared on Barron’s on April.12, 2014.
Consider this piece of data from today’s powerful fire hose of information: U.S. fire departments discard so many fire hoses annually that if you hooked them all together, they’d stretch from New York to San Francisco and back, with enough leftover hose to reach Dallas. That’s a lot of fire hose put out to pasture. These high-pressure hoses may have sprung leaks or lost some flexibility, but they’re hardly about to decompose. Made of synthetic fibers and tight webs of wire, a fire hose can live for many years after it’s tossed on the garbage heap, morphing in the process from heroic tool to just another environmental villain.
Luckily, some private companies are responding to the plight of old fire hoses. Oxgut Hose, based in California, salvages hoses and hands them off to local designers and artisans, who fashion surprisingly sleek home furnishings from them—chairs, loungers, hammocks, mats, and more. HoseWear, based in Estonia, makes handbags, belts, and iPad covers from old hoses. A British outfit, Elvis & Kresse, produces wallets, notebooks, and cuff links.
This cottage industry may never lack for raw material. Though data on discarded fire hose is hard to come by, the New York Fire Department alone decommissioned 7,033 fire hoses in 2012. Since the standard hose length is 50 feet, that comes to 66.6 miles. Gotham’s 11,000 firefighters represent 1% of the nation’s total, so assuming the city’s retired hose is 1% of America’s, that amounts to 6,600 miles. That’s a lot of waterproof cuff links.