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How PrimaLoft is Advancing Garment Biodegradability as an End-of-Life Solution

In 2014, PrimaLoft shot for the moon. “Why can’t we just make a jacket that we can bury in the backyard?” a product manager asked, describing a “compostable” packaging label she had encountered. Mike Joyce, PrimaLoft’s president and CEO, recalled feeling stunned. “My first thought was, ‘Wow, that’s impossible. That’s like putting a man on the moon,’” he said.

Five years later, however, the company didn’t just leap, it practically vaulted. By next fall, Helly Hansen, L.L. Bean, Norrøna and Vaude customers will be able to purchase the first products made with PrimaLoft Bio, the world’s first 100 percent recycled polyester fiber designed to break down when “exposed to the right environment,” such as a landfill or the ocean.

The company’s scientists managed this by “enhancing” the fiber to make it more enticing for naturally occurring microbes to consume. Indeed, PrimaLoft found that Bio fibers are able to achieve 84.1 percent degradation in 423 days under simulated landfill conditions and 55.1 percent degradation in 409 days under simulated marine conditions, compared with negligible degradation for standard polyester.

The process is entirely benign, Joyce said. No harmful residues come out on the other side—just carbon dioxide, water, methane and biomass. “At the end of the biodegradation process, all that is left is natural, carbon-based material in the form of humus,” he added.

PrimaLoft’s moon shot, Joyce hopes, will help combat the growing proliferation of microplastics in the ocean. “The intention of PrimaLoft Bio was always to address the eventual end of life of a garment in an impactful way, while finding a solution for the industry-wide microplastics issue,” he said.

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At the same time, the company recently proved, through third-party testing, that Bio fibers are chemically recyclable with a 95 percent yield rate. This process breaks down the polyester to its basic components, allowing it to be “rejuvenated” into new high-performance material without compromising its original integrity or level of performance, Joyce said.

“Biodegradability is an end-of-life solution that works in harmony with the circularity model,” he added. “With the ability to renew our fibers, we are changing the conversation to circularity. Circular economies are the next frontier in sustainability and we have proven our capabilities in this space.”

Sourcing Journal’s Sustaining Voices celebrates the efforts the apparel industry is making toward securing a more environmentally responsible future through creative innovations, scalable solutions and forward-thinking initiatives that are spinning intent into action.

See more of our Sustaining Voices honorees and their stories, here.