Compared to other KTC LAB endeavors, our current project, ‘closing the loop’ in cooperation with the wear2wear consortium, presents itself as garment brain surgery in all aspects of the process.
The challenge of bringing a Mono-Polyester garment at its ‘end of life’ into the actual recycling process (to become first a fiber, then a yarn, a fabric, and finally a garment again) is omnipresent.
Trims and accessories have so far typically not been produced with a major focus on recycling –skipping the use of certain problematic substances has a negative impact on the durability of the items.
And while reinforcing Polymers with fiberglass is an easy solution to the problem, fiberglass is considered a serious contaminate causing clogged jets during fiber extrusion – a total no-go!
So here is our challenge for plastic trims, like cord-locks, buttons, snaps, and zipper components.
Any permanent additives to fabrics and components from the dyeing process or other chemical treatments can also contaminate the feedstock. Using undyed fabrics and trims on a garment may only work on select items without creating an unpleasing product aesthetic.
Other dyeing and cleaning technologies are currently in development. These provide better pre-conditions for the recycling process while also leaving a minimal footprint for energy consumption and water and chemical use.
In the extensive research carried out so far, it became clear that certain polymers come with challenges for recycling and thus must be substituted, which in turn has an impact on the design and construction of the garment.
While the challenges around achieving a high level of purity lie in material development and garment construction, other factors lie beyond our control.
For up-cycling to become a viable option for the future, a large quantity of high-quality feedstock is needed, especially for large-scale industrial applications.
We and our partners at wear2wear count on brands and industry allies to get on board to help create the momentum and volume needed at scale. While we are still at the beginning of this journey, we hope that the opportunities for growth outweigh the challenges!