PART 1: RECYCLED MATERIALS
REDUCE, REUSE and RECYCLE: these are the three R’s the circular economy is all about. Our resources are limited, waste and emissions increase drastically and are damaging our planet. The consequences are killing people and wildlife every year. We have to act now. Changing our consumer behaviour is mandatory to make a change possible. But where to start? Let’s have a look at one of the high polluting and waste generating industries, fashion.
Being in the spotlight for a while the fashion industry reacted. More and more fashion brands started to rethink their supply chains and swapped their materials for more natural, recycled or biodegradable ones. But who is actually behind all these great new materials, which we are seeing these days and how are they made?
Here, I will introduce some revolutionary manufacturers which made this movement possible. I divided the article in two, in part 1 I will focus on recycled materials and in part 2 on innovative organic materials.
ECONYL® yarn by Aquafil
A lot of fashion labels are now introducing recycled nylon in their collections. One of the companies who is responsible for this great development is the Italian company Aquafil, who invented the yarn ECONYL® in 2011. To achieve this they take nylon waste like fabric scraps, old carpets and fishing nets found in landfills, oceans and aquacultures around the world and transform it into their regenerated nylon. This yarn has exactly the same properties as new nylon and can be recycled again and again. This so called regenerated nylon is strong, lightweight, elastic, durable, quick-drying and UV-resistant just like virgin nylon. The big difference, it reduces waste, carbon emissions and the use of castor oil.
This is why hundreds of fashion brands are already using the ECONYL® yarn today and the demand is growing. From sport and casual brands up to high-end designers like Gucci and Stella Mccartney, they are all creating their sports, swim and outdoor wear out of it. ECONYL® regenerated nylon can be found in interior use as well. A few big carpet companies are using the yarn already to weave their flooring and by the end of last year Aquafil, together with Tarkett, managed to close the loop. Being able to source post-use PA6 yarn from Tarkett’s carpets to create its regenerated ECONYL® fiber again.
Environmental impact: For every 10,000 tons of ECONYL® raw material 70,000 barrels of crude oil are saved as well as saving 57,100 tons of CO2 eq. emissions.
Recycled down feathers
You might have seen that some fashion brands now offer jackets filled with recycled down feathers. So, how does that work? Already, back in the old days, farmers were recycling down feathers when their duvet was broken. They took the precious down feathers out, washed them, added more to it and then put them into new shells. The company Re:Down® updated this ancient practise. They are recycling down and feathers from post consumer goods, which can be used again as filling material in sleeping bags, bedding products or in apparel. They are collecting the downs from private owners, charities and hotels, washing them with their own thermal water and soap. They don’t use any chemicals just soap and hot temperature and after that they recycle the water through their own system which gets sent back as clean drinking water.
Re:Down® is aiming for zero waste, they also up-cycle the broken down fibers and feathers and transform it into organic fertilizer. The fabric shells from the old duvets are chopped into small pieces and are used for the filling of their non woven insulation.
Environmental impact: Re:Down® uses approx. 74% less water compared to virgin down feathers.
NuCycl™ by Evrnu
Another interesting material is called NuCycl™ , developed by the startup Evrnu. They turn old clothing into new by liquifying old cotton garments like t-shirts and jeans and converting them into a new fiber. This new fiber is an engineered one with extraordinary quality and environmental advantages which conserves raw materials, reduces water usage and climate impact.
Evrnu teamed up with adidas by Stella McCartney to produce the Infinite Hoodie, which is made from 60% NuCycl™ and 40% organic cotton taken from landfills. The hoodie can be reused again and again and be remade into a high-performance product.
Environmental impact: By creating new fibers from old clothes, NuCycl™ prevents harmful greenhouse gas emissions and reduces water usage.
REPREVE® by Unifi
Recycled polyester from plastic bottles
A new trend in sustainable fashion is recycled polyester made from recycled plastic bottles. One of the leading companies which is providing fashion brands with this recycled yarn is Unifi. Their product REPREVE® and REPREVE® Our Ocean™ creates yarn out of plastic bottles. Therefore they are collecting plastic bottles and post-industrial waste worldwide. The waste material is chopped, ground, washed, melted and reformulated into chips. These chips are melted into liquid polymer, extruded in a spinneret to create the REPREVE® fiber. The fiber then becomes the yarn through spinning and air-jet texturing. The REPREVE® yarn then goes to the fabrics which are finally turned into sustainable apparel.
Environmental impact: Unifi has recycled over 19 billion plastic bottles. They offset using new petroleum and avoid 385 million kg of CO2 emissions, which provides 1.7 million people with daily drinking water and generates enough power to provide 133 thousand homes for 1 year.
Title picture: ©Aquafil, ECONYL® yarn