Textile waste is a major challenge. Every day, large quantities of textiles end up in landfills or are incinerated. The calls to reuse textile waste and used (second-hand) textiles and to obtain valuable new materials or raw materials from them are becoming increasingly louder.
What was the motivation behind the launch of the Coolmax and Thermolite EcoMade fibers?
"Textile waste represents a substantial challenge for the apparel industry.100 billion garments are being made each year, with an astonishing 85% going to landfill, or effectively 1 truck to landfill every second. Clearly, the industry needs to begin to deal with this waste, and this raises the desire to recycle used garments.
Additionally, if we consider the process of manufacturing garments, an average of 10-25% of fabric ends up as cutting waste. That represents the equivalent of 10 to 25 billion garments going into waste each year. That’s a significant amount of material to dispose of, and it is valuable material that we can repurpose. Therefore, we decided to start right now, making high-performance Coolmax and Thermolite fibers from this relatively easy-to-collect pool of cutting waste, linked to the new recycling approach. We do envisage recycling garments once collection and sorting are in place, but the cutting waste is there, so why wait!"
You say that these EcoMade fibers are made from 100% textile waste. What kind of textile waste is it? Is the use of post-consumer waste also envisaged?
"The new Coolmax and Thermolite EcoMade technology is made from cutting room waste (scraps from 100% polyester or polyester rich fabrics.) The scraps are collected, depolymerized and any impurities such as dyes and other companion fibers are removed. The extracted monomer elements are then repolymerized to yield virgin grade polyester polymer.
This allows us to use the waste from the textile industry and create pristine quality products. This is important, as textile waste is a real and immediate problem with such a large amount of fabric going to waste on the cutting room floor. With this new process, this waste is now a source of raw material which can be reused.
The technology that we have today can actually handle garments, so that’s not a limiting factor. The difficulty lies in securing a consistent and reliable supply of clothing. We are working with our partner to explore these possibilities and we hope within 2-3 years we can transition from pre- to post-consumer waste."
Performance and sustainability – can both points be reconciled in the new fibers?
"Yes, both can be achieved. Coolmax and Thermolite EcoMade fibers made from 100% textile waste combine the brand equity and performance attributes, with the sustainability benefits of our new textile waste recycling technology, to help brands and retailers start meeting their goals for circular solutions.
There is no limit on the number of times materials can be recycled, as every time the product is depolymerized, you go back to basic monomers, clean impurities and start over again. This recreation of virgin quality polymer is one of the key benefits of this technology – it means no compromise on quality or performance."
What could a sustainable textile industry look like in future?
"The desired state would be one where we start with durable fibers that get made into fabrics and ultimately garments that have a long wear life, perhaps even for multiple owners. After this, fibers should be strong enough to be recycled at end of life. Designers would design products for a circular system and products would be manufactured using sustainable processes and fewer finite resources.
As the industry is focused on solutions for a circular economy, at The Lycra Company, we continue to be committed to offering a variety of fiber and fabric solutions that reduce or divert waste, keeping materials in use longer. We also have a number of technologies that address garment durability which provides another sustainability benefit."
What role does industry play here, and what is the role of the consumer?
"The industry needs to do its part in terms of reducing its footprint by using sustainable manufacturing processes, including fair and ethical treatment of employees, producing fibers, fabrics and garments that last, and that ultimately can be recycled at end of life. We also have a responsibility to help the consumer understand the impact of their purchases. And the consumer needs to make informed choices. Research shows that once consumers understand the problem, they want to make more sustainable choices."