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Worn Again’s Polymer-Recycling Technology is Poised for Prime Time

Worn Again Technologies has received a 5 million-pound ($6.4 million) investment infusion to scale up an innovative dual-polymer recycling technology that separates and extracts polyester and cotton from blended fibers and PET bottles for spinning into new yarns.

The London-based startup says it’s now using the additional funding to optimize and scale up its process, thereby fast-tracking its vision of a “waste-free, circular-resource world.”

Worn Again already had some pretty big guns on its side, however. In 2015, Swedish retailer H&M and luxury conglomerate Kering threw their support behind what was then hailed as a first-of-its-kind circular resource model. The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan and Circle Economy soon signed on, as did Sulzer Chemtech, one of the world’s largest chemical engineering companies soon signed on, and Himes Corp., a garment manufacturer based in Mexico.

“The innovation cracks the code not only by being able to separate both polyester and cotton but also by being able to produce two end products that are both comparable in quality and have the aim of being competitive in price to virgin resources,” CEO Cyndi Rhoades, said in a statement. “The process saves energy and will accelerate us toward a waste-free, circular resource world.”

Rhoades, a finalist in the leadership category of the World Economic Forum’s Circular Economy Awards, which will be held in Davos later this month, notes that here are more than enough textiles and plastic bottles “above ground” and in circulation today to meet the annual demand for raw materials for new clothing and textiles.

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“With our dual-polymer recycling technology, there will be no need to use virgin oil by-products to make new polyester and the industry will be able to radically decrease the amount of virgin cotton going into clothing by displacing it with new cellulose fibers recaptured from existing clothing,” she added.

Roughly 62 million tons of polyester and cotton are employed in textiles production worldwide every year, according to Euromonitor International. By 2030, the number is projected to soar by 63 percent to 102 million tons.

But tens of millions of tons of textiles lie buried in landfills around the world. Even when collected, fewer than 1 percent of textiles used for clothing gets recycled, mostly because of the limitations of outdated technology that isn’t equipped to deal with blended fibers.

Worn Again, Rhoades says, has the potential to increase that 1 percent exponentially, without any “price premium to manufacturers, brands or the consumer.”

The firm expects to launch in 2021 its first industrial demonstration plant, which will help drive the efficiency of its technology.

“So when we build a big plant…suddenly, the potential for being able to divert textiles from landfills into a process that can actually generate revenue for a production plant and create a global commodity, it will be a huge shift in collection, infrastructure and what cities will be able to do,” Rhoades told Forbes on Thursday.

From there, Worn Again may license and build out an entire network of plants.

“It’s just going to change everything. These are exciting, pioneer days,” Rhoades said.