This week, Unified, a company known for producing recycled materials from waste, announced its Textile Takeback™ initiative: this textile-to-textile infrastructure program aims to recycle a polyester-based supply chain and post-consumer fabric waste, and convert it into REPREVE® – recycled performance fiber has been used by popular brands such as North Face, Patagonia, Beyond Yoga, Aday , Asics, Vuori and more.
Polyester has become a popular choice around the world and may even be the most used fiber in the world by some accounts. With approximately 90 million tons of textile waste created and 87% of textiles discarded each year, Textile Takeback™ aims to transform the industry’s take-do-waste model by diverting textile waste from landfill and recycling it into new products.
Unifi CEO Eddie Ingle breaks it down for us.
Chhabra: What are the origins of the Textile Takeback program? When did it start and how much textile waste has already gone through it?
English : The program began in 2011 in partnership with Polartec, but is a new iteration and expansion of the initiative to meet demand from Unifi/REPREVE customers. To date, REPREVE has transformed more than 35 billion plastic bottles.
Chhabra: Can you explain the steps to follow once the material is in your hands? Where does he go next? How many steps are needed before it becomes Repreve?
English: We work closely with our client partners to qualify each material or fabric for Textile Takeback. Once qualified, the materials are collected and we bring them to our recycling centers. The material is shredded, heated and melted so that we can filter and remove contaminants and make a REPREVE resin. We can combine textile waste with bottle flakes to ensure that we achieve the target physical properties needed for the next process – spinning. In the spinning process, REPREVE resin made from the Textile Takeback process is re-melted and then turned into staple fiber or filament yarn.
Chhabra: What have been the toughest recycling challenges so far? Is it mainly the different mixtures that still make the task difficult?
English: Fabrics made from more than one type of yarn (or type of material), such as cotton and polyester in the same fabric, are prohibitively expensive for the textile recovery process. In addition, various clothing applications are sometimes used and these items require deconstruction that is difficult to recycle. We work closely with our customer partners to educate and collaborate on design for recyclability.
Chhabra: Which materials cannot be recycled and why?
English: Not all materials are suitable for every recycling process or application – we strive to find waste that is not contaminated with other fibres. The Textile Takeback process takes polyester textile waste and transforms it into usable REPREVE resin. REPREVE fiber and yarn recycling is a very critical application. Our filaments are smaller than human hair! Natural materials like cotton can be very difficult in the process used to make REPREVE because we melt and remove contaminants from the waste – and cotton does not melt.
Chhabra: How will this work globally? In how many countries will it be available?
English: We originally launched our Textile Takeback program in the United States, but quickly recognized opportunities to bring in waste from neighboring Central America, which is a key region for textile manufacturing in the Western Hemisphere. With our recent expansion, we have built the supply chain for Textile Takeback in China. This allows us to provide a solution for textile waste in another key manufacturing epicentre.
Chhabra: Has there been a solution to the criticisms of microplastics coming from poly-based clothing, whether virgin or recycled?
English: At REPREVE®, we are committed to leading the global transition to a more sustainable future by innovating today, for the good of tomorrow. We create REPREVE®’s recycled textile solutions because we believe in a better future where waste is the exception, not the rule. We understand that the loss of fiber fragments can potentially occur during the processing, use and disposal of natural and synthetic fibers. The risk of microfibers isn’t limited to textiles, as research shows that sources of fiber fragments include automotive tires, marine coatings, road markings, personal care products, and more, according to the report. International Union for Conservation of Nature. We believe that transparent collaboration is key to building better understanding and moving forward. We have joined the Microfibre Consortium in partnership to continue working with our industry partners on this important issue. As the world leader in recycled performance fibers, we are always looking for new ways to improve. We will continue to seek education and drive sustainable innovation, while working with our partners to create the best-designed and consciously designed products available.
Chhabra: Does the recycling process contain waste that we need to be aware of?
English: We have designed the Textile Takeback qualification process to ensure that we are working to optimize applications for specific types of textile waste collected. We only have a small amount of waste generated from our textile rework process when we make shavings for our REPREVE yarns, such as when switching from one product to another or when replacing filters. However, we even recycle this waste into REPREVE at our REPREVE recycling center.