The Plastic Bottle Fiber

Would you believe me if I told you only 31% of the plastic bottles in the US get recycled? I have proof, below is a post consumer PET material flow chart corresponding to data collected in 2015.

Alarming, isn’t it? Here is another fact:

Recycling is a business, with profitability driven like any other business, by consumer demand.

Unifi, Inc is a manufacturer of multi filament, specializing in polyester and nylon textured yarns, and headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina. Repreve was launched in 2007 as a Unifi brand. They focus on post consumer plastic bottle recycling to create polyester yarns. The polyester segment accounts for 60% of total revenues, and makes Repreve Unifi’s flagship brand.

The Repreve Bottle Processing Center opened in September 2016 with the aim to become a vertically integrated company. This strategic growth plan was also pursued to increase efficiency, product quality, flexibility as well as traceability. The plant now has the capacity to produce 75 million pounds of bottle flakes yearly. Simply put, the “raw material” source of their product is created once you recycle, then they buy bottle bale from material recovering facilities. The material is then sorted, chopped into flakes cleaned and dried during the manufacturing phase. The flakes are then used as prime material for further refined products such as polyester yarn, packaging applications or sold.

Lets not forget about the profitably part of the business.

Recycling bottles decrease the amount of natural resources needed, up to 45% of power savings can be realized from processing bottles flakes. The synthetic fibers market is expected to grow conservatively at 3% to 4% in the next couple of years, and trends show the need for additional investment in high technology and comfort which will only increase polyester consumption. Prices have managed to stay competitive despite low oil prices making virgin material low-cost. It’s good for the environment and also supports their income. What puts Unifi’s Repreve ahead of competitors is their investment in technology and innovation directed towards eco-friendliness.

PET material recycled in the U.S during 2015 was used 38% for fibers and 25% for food and beverage packing. Textiles are far less likely to get recycled than food packaging. In fact, only 15% of post consumer apparel products get recycled in the U.S and 8 %to 15% of pre consumer fabric ends up in the landfills as cutting waste. And we all know polyester does not decompose…

So what’s the point if it is going to end up as landfill waste anyway?

Lucky for you, Repreve also offers a solution for this. In 2011 the Textile Takeback Program was launched in collaboration with Polartec. Its mission to recycle manufacturing and post consumer polyester articles to create an exclusive Repreve 100 recycled yarn. 40% of the 2011 production was expected to use this new yarn. The takeback program can only be achieved by working closely with manufacturers and by teaching consumers to recycle.

The brand focuses mainly in the U.S market, and lucky for them “Made in America” products have become more and more desirable. Today more than 250 consumer brands partner with Repreve. Through these partnerships, Unifi is able to reach several markets. Globally, the top textile producing brands that are users of rPES are H&M, North Face and Patagonia.

Sustainability has yet to show that it’s a strong enough force to drive consumer demand.

Repreve campaign #TurnItGreen was a nation wide tour sponsored by Polartec, Sage, Renewtra, Volcom and SnapBox. It stopped at schools, retailers and major sporting events showcasing their process, products and fabric performance. During the campaign Repreve, literally, reached out to the audience in an attempt to create awareness. The campaign was followed by the hashtag in an attempt to reach for younger audiences, unfortunately it did not catch on.

Repreve has a strong story, their strongest points lay within their partnerships with consumer brands. It does not only materialize the concept of recycling, it also demonstrates these products can functional. Two thirds of the population may be willing to pay more for a product made with recycled materials, yet this may only apply such products was offered at the brands they already shop at. Lastly, in order to close the loop and further sustainability in the textile and apparel world, they need that close relationship with consumer brands.