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How Dutch Startup Achieves Fully Traceable Recycled Cotton

Dutch startup Aware is answering the call for companies and consumers that want to be sure their garments are made from the recycled fabrics and fibers they claim.

Aware applies tracer particles and blockchain to ensure that the recycled cotton that enters the supply chain is the same that comes out as consumer-ready apparel. By offering validation, transparency and verification, Aware said the hybrid technology can work to eliminate greenwashing and foster trust in the textiles industry.

Feico van der Veen, founder and director of The Movement, a company that develops sustainable solutions for the textile industry, regards Aware technology as a natural next step.

“There’s a real pressure for change: to make sustainability actually mean something,” Van der Veen said. “Everyone realizes that sustainability is a term that, if not fully empty, is at least vague. Brands and retailers now recognize we need to be measuring impact reduction in terms of water use, energy, waste, CO2 and all the rest. People are finally talking in more concrete terms: transparency, traceability, validation and verification. The buying departments have finally fully caught up to the strategic departments.”

Developing Aware took over a year from concept to proof of concept, he noted. Van Der Veen said “huge wins can be achieved” in mainstreaming the use of recycled cotton for which the water and chemicals have been consumed and the CO2 released.

The process begins with a global network of carefully selected partner spinners that add the patented tracer material into the original recycled feedstock. A virtual representation of the yarn or fiber is then created as a digital token and includes all relevant information, such as certification that the material is recycled plus yarn and fiber specifications, all of which are stored on decentralized and open-source blockchain.

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The yarn can then enter production in a company’s supply chain that they themselves have established as compliant. At the very end of the chain, the final product will be read by a hand scanner to confirm it is made from the original certified recycled materials.

This confirmation is then linked to the related digital token stored on blockchain, the original purchase order and the Aware Certificate of Authenticity. All this information will then be transferred to the digital wallet of the retailer or brand, complete with an easy-to-understand blockchain interface documenting all environmental impact savings.

“Yes, it will be great when consumers can scan their clothes; this will happen in the future,” Van Der Veen said. “But right now, I am keeping the message simple: let’s validate and verify recycled cotton. And of course, the same technology can be applied to any other fibers, such as hemp, viscose, lyocell bamboo, recycled polyester and recycled nylon.”

Similar traceability technologies have been developed in the industry. Applied DNA technology can trace regular cotton from the raw materials stage through DNA embedded in the fibers, while Unifi Inc.’s U Trust verification program is a certification program in which every Repreve-based recycled polyester and nylon fabric contains FiberPrint, a proprietary tracer technology used to analyze and validate fiber content claims and composition.