As part of Verdex’s investment in circular innovations, the Virginia-based technology company has set its sights on the growing mountain of carpet waste.
Only one-tenth of carpets are reused or recycled, with the remainder destined for landfills. Looking to change the typically linear lifecycle of rugs, Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) approached Verdex in 2016 about creating a way to recycle both carpets and plastic bottles.
Together, they developed a nozzle technology that can turn post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) into nano- and microfibers, which are then blended with other longer fibers to create apparel and textile products.
Compared to electrospinning, Verdex’s procedure for manufacturing polymeric nanofibers swaps out potentially caustic solvents for low-pressure air, cleaning up the process.
“Verdex’s mission was to create a totally green technology that could produce nanofibers at a scale that was much cheaper, much faster, much safer and much more environmentally friendly than the expensive, slow and environmentally hazardous electrospinning,” said Damien Deehan, co-CEO of Verdex.
The company says its process is the only one capable of spinning recycled carpet and bottles, since the pellets from these processed plastics would typically ruin manufacturing equipment.
“One of the main areas of focus and challenges to overcome was ensuring we had a continuous process that would stand up to manufacturing standards and be able to produce a high-quality end product,” Deehan said. “This took many iterations, and many design changes to get it right. The end result is a high-quality, high-profit recycled flat sheet media with numerous applications in the marketplace.”
Fibers made from recycled polypropylene and calcium carbonate carpeting, for instance, hold the performance benefit of a higher moisture vapor transmission rate, pointing to a potential use case in athletic apparel.
Verdex is working to scale up its recycling technology in partnership with CARE. A facility in the works in Atlanta will house a 1-meter commercial line centered on the PET repurposing process, as well as a laboratory-scale line that will allow customers to run product development tests.
Beyond finding new purposes for PET waste, Verdex is in talks with companies to spin biodegradable polymers that won’t clog up oceans and landfills.
“The very nature of business means you must never stop innovating, and when you’re innovating, there are always obstacles,” Deehan said. “You stop innovating, you stop growing; and when you stop growing, you cease as a business.”
What’s the most important issue the fashion industry has yet to address?
“For us, it’s still sustainability. Even though the fashion industry is leading the way more so than any other industry when it comes to sustainability, there’s still so much to do,” he said. “When leading the way in areas as important as sustainability and the circular economy, it’s vitally important to keep innovating, keep moving forward, keep disrupting and to ensure that all other industries take notice and follow the lead.”
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.