Long considered an elusive process only accessible to a select few, chemical recycling may take off in the near future, thanks to a new initiative from Fashion for Good, a global accelerator committed to scaling sustainability.
On Thursday, the company announced the second iteration of its Full Circle Textiles Project, which will focus on polyester recycling innovations. The program brings together brands, innovators, supply chain partners and catalytic funders dedicated to growing promising technology providers already in service, including CuRe Technology, Garbo, gr3n and PerPETual. The providers will produce chemically recycled polyester over the course of 18 months, after which it will be assessed by the program’s brand and supply chain partners. The material will eventually be used in fabric and garment production from post-consumer textile waste.
“Textile recycling is a key focus for Fashion for Good,” said Katrin Ley, managing director at Fashion for Good. “With the success of the first Full Circle Textiles Project, and proof that a galvanized 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.”
As a relatively new innovation, textile-to-textile chemical recycling faces significant barriers to scale, and has its skeptics as a result. Its limited availability has made some experts call into question the validity of circular initiatives like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign program, which sets out minimum requirements for circular denim production, and controversially allows a small amount of polyester in its guidelines.
Because of the lack of access to recycling, critics say any polyester component disqualifies a product from recycling. Other obstacles include a lack of financing, slow brand adoption and competition with cheaper, virgin fibers.
But for others, including performance fabrics company W.L. Gore & Associates, which produces the popular waterproof innovation Gore-Tex, plastic is a crucial component of its business.
“Like most brands in the industry, PET is a key fiber for our business, and we recognize the need to understand and invest in future recycling capabilities with a view to lowering resource consumption,” said Craig Lindemann, sustainability technologist at W.L. Gore & Associates’ fabrics division.
For W.L. Gore & Associates, Lindemann said 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.”
Fashion for Good’s initial Full Circle Textiles Project launched in September 2020 and explored economically viable and scalable solutions for cellulosic chemical recycling. The program tapped technology providers Circ, Evrnu, Infinited Fiber Company and Renewcell to produce garments for brand partners PVH Corp. and Kering Group to their particular quality specifications.
According to Fashion for Good, the program completed what it set out to do, and is currently working toward scaling the solutions. It will apply the same framework to its latest initiative to ensure similar success.
In November, the organization initiated the Sorting for Circularity Project and Sorting for Circularity India Project to connect textile sorters and textile recyclers and further support the development of the infrastructure necessary to scale textile recycling. The project aims to build an infrastructure toward greater circularity in the years to come.
Given India’s position as a manufacturing and consumption market for textiles, it’s a hub for large streams of pre-consumer and domestic post-consumer waste. According to Ley, the project is “pivotal to understanding the size of this considerable market and providing the incentive, tools and means for the industry to benefit from the wealth of this untapped resource.”