New project to upscale polyester recycling technologies

The Full Circle Textile Project – Polyester was launched on 9 December, tasked with the upscaling of polyester chemical recycling technologies.

The project will see several companies harnessing the infrastructure – including CuRe Technology, Garbo, gr3n and PerPETual – in order to manufacture recycled material from post-consumer waste for use within the fabric and garment industry. It will build on the existing work of the Full Circle Textiles Project, launched back in September 2020, which specialises in the production of ‘new man-made cellulosic fibres and eventual garments from cotton and cotton-blend textile waste’.

Polyester recyclingPolyester constitutes 52 per cent of the global fibre market, representing a sizeable proportion of the 73 per cent of textiles that are either landfilled or incinerated annually. As it is a synthetic fibre derived from petroleum, and therefore fossil fuels, polyester is not biodegradable and will not break down naturally in the environment.

Chemical recycling uses enzymes to break down waste fabric ready for reprocessing. According to the Full Circle Textile Project, it results in virgin-quality output and is applicable to a wide range of textile types. At the moment, however, the practice suffers from several barriers to scale due to being an emerging area of innovation – these include ‘lack of financing for new technologies, limited brand offtake, and limited and expensive output that competes with cheaper, virgin options.’

The next stage of the project will see a focus on the upscaling of these solutions. Innovators, (Circ, EVRNU, Infinited Fiber Company and Renewcell), brand partners (PVH Corp. and Kering Group), and supply chain partners are being encouraged to collaborate in order to ‘catalyse funding’ and ‘leverage industry expertise to further develop and implement these technologies.’ Fashion for Good, which leads the consortium, has already put in place the Sorting for Circularity and Sorting for Circularity India Projects in order to further support the development of the infrastructure required in order to expand textile recycling. These projects are tasked with forging links between textile recyclers and textile sorters in order to establish a marketplace for unwanted fabrics.

The consortium will also see a range of stakeholders being brought together – including brands, innovators, supply chain partners and catalytic funders – in order to encourage financing amongst the textiles industry into the project. Collaborators include catalytic funder Laudes Foundation; brand partners Adidas, BESTSELLER, C and A, PVH Corp., Target and Zalando; and affiliate partners Arvind Limited, Fabrics Division of W. L. Gore and Associates and Teijin Frontier.

Katrin Ley, Managing Director at Fashion for Good, commented: “Textile recycling is a key focus for Fashion for Good. With the success of the first Full Circle Textiles Project, and proof that a galvanised consortium of stakeholders from across the industry can truly shift the needle, we can now turn our attention to applying these learnings and steps to scale to another critical area; textile-to-textile polyester recycling.”

Dr. Vivek Tandon, Founder and CEO at perPETual Technologies, stated: “There are approximately eight billion people in the world who need to be clothed. Achieving a sustainable source of polyester is critical to the solution. PerPETual Technologies already recycles over 3.5 million PET bottles a day into textiles. In parallel, we have been working hard to also ensure we can recycle polyester clothing. Fashion for Good’s project is a fantastic step in bringing technology providers and brands together to accelerate this process.”

Fabio Silvestri, Head of Marketing and Business Development at gr3n, said: “Chemical recycling has enormous potential for all players involved, for example brands, consumers, and us, as it can change the way we approach textile waste. The Fashion for Good Full Circle Textiles Project – Polyester can benefit the whole value chain in achieving tangible results and steer this technology towards industrial scale.”

Craig Lindemann, Sustainability Technologist, Gore Fabrics Division, said: “Like most brands in the industry, PET is a key fibre for our business, and we recognise the need to understand and invest in future recycling capabilities with a view to lowering resource consumption. For us, this project represents an opportunity to answer some key questions about the future of circularity – how can chemical recycling help us increase availability of rPET, what is the true footprint of those materials and what are the key constraints, all so that we can be sure we’re designing our products responsibly, with the total lifecycle impact in mind.”