Intradeco Holdings, a global vertical manufacturing company supplying casual clothing and thermal underwear to major brands like Wrangler and Fruit of the Loom, has earned a global union life cycle analysis (LCA) certification for its manufacturing of recycled T-shirts.
“We are very proud to have earned this recognition for the manufactur[ing] of our recycled T-shirts,” Luis Marquina, Intradeco’s chief operating officer, said. “Intradeco and CASW are committed to produc[ing] the best sustainable textiles. As a result, we have been working tirelessly to research and develop a 100 percent recycled product. All of our efforts came into fruition with the development of Regenyarns in 2020. In December 2020, we started processing post-consumer waste and now we have LCA certification, which assures both our retail customers and consumers that we have met all the rigorous requirements of a fully circular product.”
The LCA study, performed by the third-party auditing company Peterson, collected and evaluated the potential inputs, outputs and environmental impacts of the Miami-based company’s T-shirt production system throughout its life. It covered all aspects of the manufacturing process of the company’s recycled T-shirts, including cotton regeneration, upcycled cotton yarns, the regeneration process, textile waste sourcing, sorting, fiber regeneration, opening and carding, as well as spinning to create Intradeco’s proprietary product, Regenyarns. Regenyarns are made from 100 percent recycled materials, produced using post-industrial textile waste and post-consumer plastic waste.
Intradeco reclaims this waste from its key North and Central America partners, including Fibertex, Elcatex and Celeritas. Nearshoring its resources is essential for reducing its carbon footprint along the supply chain. As a vertical company, Intradeco also recycles the cut scraps from its sewing mill in El Salvador.
About 92 million tons of textile waste is produced worldwide every year; 85 percent of that waste ends up in landfills, creating a negative impact on the communities and the environment, Intradeco said. By producing upcycled cotton yarn, the company reduces textile waste that ends up in landfills, saves energy, lowers production costs, creates a circular business model and eliminates chemical use by at least 80 percent.
The regeneration process begins by shredding the cut scraps into smaller pieces to be prepared for recycling, which are then processed into Intradeco’s machinery that breaks up the waste into the upcycled cotton fiber. The opening and carding process parallelizes and cleans up the regenerated fiber to create the mix between the upcycled cotton and the recycled polyester. The outcome of this process is the sliver that feeds the spinning machines. The rotor spinning technique is applied to create socially and environmentally friendly yarns which comply with the GRS Certification.
The LCA certification was achieved due to the collaboration of Intradeco’s cotton spinning business in El Salvador, Central America Spinning Works (CASW), and its partnership with Recover Brands, a 100 percent recycled material apparel and accessories company.
“Recover Brands has been making 100 percent recycled apparel since 2010 and the LCA certification further validates our ongoing commitment to sustainability,” Bill Johnston, president of Recover Brands, said. “With our vertical supply chain in El Salvador, we are able to offer our customers a fully circular textile recycling system that is now certified.”
The reference framework the LCA followed was ISO 14040 and 14044, which encompasses four phases to carry out the LCA study: definition of objectives and scope, inventory analysis, impact evaluation and interpretation.
The analysis compared the environmental impacts of manufacturing a T-shirt made with regenerated material (50 percent recycled polyester and 50 percent recycled cotton) and 100 percent cotton from January to April 2022.
The impact categories include acidification, global warming potential, ecotoxicity, eutrophication, fossil resource scarcity, ozone depletion, water consumption and cumulative energy demand.
“If you look at the textile industry as a whole, the water and energy usage is really high,” Johnston said. “So what we’re looking at, from an electricity and water consumption process, is reducing that consumption in comparison to a typical garment.”
Production of cardboard boxes had the highest impact in all the impact categories except for terrestrial acidification. For global warming, it represents 44 percent, 40 percent for water consumption and 46.03 percent for energy. The strip size had the second highest impact in all the impact categories except for terrestrial acidification.
Regarding T-shirt manufacturing, fabric transportation from CASW had a major impact in most of the categories except for marine eutrophication and water consumption, representing 96.5 percent of the effect on global warming and 98.72 in energy consumption.
The stage with the highest impact in almost all the categories is the road transport from Intradesa, a sister company, to the Santo Tomás port, where it represents 75 percent of global warming, 83 percent of water and 76.52 in energy consumption. The highest impact on terrestrial acidification comes from the sea transport from the Santo Tomás port to the Miami port.
The impact equivalence for four T-shirts of regenerated fabric and packaging are 251 gallons of consumed gasoline, 957 smartphones charged and 19 600 ml water bottles. The impact equivalence for 4 T-shirts of 100 percent virgin cotton and packaging are 251 gallons of consumed gasoline, 2,445 smartphones charged and 1,683 600 ml water bottles.
The recommendations for 100 percent cotton fabric include evaluating the possibility of buying organic cotton for the T-shirt or considering changing the manufacturing of T-shirts only to use regenerated fabric in the process, continuing the use of the biomass plant to reduce the use of fossil fuels, perform a consumer behavior study to evaluate Intradeco’s consumer habits (regarding T-shirt washing and disposal), assess the agricultural process of cotton suppliers to know their environmental performance, and consider modifying substances such as sodium sulfate and sodium bicarbonate to decrease chemical usage.
The recommendations for regenerated fabric include modifying the actual cotton dust disposal (incineration) to another activity, such as compost, to reduce the environmental impacts, increase the acquisition of the regenerated raw material by nearby suppliers, design a circular economy project between CASW and Intradesa for fabric recuperation and utilization, continue the use of biomass plant to reduce the use of fossil fuels, and perform a consumer behavior study to evaluate Intradeco’s consumer habits regarding T-shirt washing and disposal.
“As far as action steps for us, I think it just further validates what we’re doing and that we’ll continue to invest in this area,” Johnston said. “I think [the LCA] just puts more emphasis on why we need to continue to push the envelope and stay at the forefront of this and hopefully bring it more as an industry standard. I think that’s really our goal, trying to be the pioneers in this and continuing to try and learn as much as we can and constantly improve. So I think we’ll take these findings as a reason why we need to continue to invest in this and continue what we’re doing.”