Polyester is the most used fibre in the apparel industry, taking a global market share of 54% of total fibres produced – that comes to approximately 61 million tons of polyester annual production volume (2021). As we know, this material is non-biodegradable, breaking down into toxic microfibres before decomposing over several hundred years, but at this point no other fibre can meet the demand of today’s market in terms of available quantity, performance and pricing. The market share of recycled polyester fibers, mainly from PET bottle recycling, has slightly increased with currently 14.8% (2021), which is not sufficient enough yet to eliminate our reliance on virgin fossil-fuel based polyester material.
Source for data: Textile Exchange, Preferred Fibres and Materials Market report (October 2022)
Finding Other Resources
To reduce negative effects on the environment, forward-thinking textile manufacturers have adopted recycled PET bottles as a raw material to produce textile fibres. This has decreased the use of virgin polyester whilst simultaneously finding new use cases for discarded bottles.
Whilst the intention of using this recycled resource may be positive, if we look a little closer we identify some key issues with using PET bottles as a material source for recycled polyester (rPET).
The most crucial issue is that whilst a bottle can be recycled into a new bottle multiple times, PET bottles can only be turned into a recycled textile fibre once. Once it becomes a new garment product, it cannot be recycled again with the same quality. This process therefore decreases the life-span of the material, which works against the intended outcome of reducing waste.
Within the discussion of the ‘circular economy’, PET bottles also come from outside the textile industry (open loop recycling) and therefore do not contribute to the industry’s path to circularity, i.e. ‘closing the loop’.
Finally, from a business perspective, the demand for sustainable materials has increased the price of PET bottles as a source material. This is coupled with the fact that the plastic waste discussion is also driving use of disposable bottles down, slowly decreasing the supply of the material in its recycled form.
The industry has pledged to increase the share of recycled polyester materials in their collections, but rPET — polyester from post-consumer recycled bottles — is not the hoped solution. So what is?
The solution lies in properly closing the loop: utilising textile waste, be it pre- or post-consumer, as the source material for new production. This can be done through fibre-to-fibre (F2F) recycling, which reduces dependency on PET bottle markets and sourcing this waste is more attainable for manufacturers (such as their own production waste).
A challenge for this is that fibre-to-fibre recycling technologies require, besides investment, pure and strict fibre composition, and textile waste is often very heterogeneous (mixed material), or has lacked the proper management — meaning it arrives contaminated, wet or fouled.
So, prior to recycling, other systems and infrastructures must be set up. This was one of the key roles for Closed Loop Fashion in the development of this Indonesian-made recycled fibre, as outlined in a previous article.
What has been developed is a waste sorting infrastructure according to standardised guidelines, this includes: waste collecting, sorting, monitoring & tracing and its preparation for further usage. Doing this ensures a stable fibre quality for the current production to match the spinning, knitting and dyeing requirements for the application in textile and apparel products.
Development of Hecoprima® – A recycled polyester fibre made from waste materials
Once the textile waste material has been prepared, Hadtex – a leading manufacturer, supplier and exporter of non-woven, polyester regenerated staple fiber, PET flakes and rPET spun yarn in West Java – is able to break down and process the polyester through mechanical recycling into a raw material colloquially referred to as ‘popcorn’.
This raw material, alongside recycled PET bottle flakes, is then processed into high-quality rPET staple fibres and rPET spun yarns through a third party. The spun yarn is available as 100% recycled polyester with yarn specifications No. 10,12,16,18,20,24 & 30, or in blends with other fibres.
Through this project, the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certified manufacturer Hadtex has been able to develop this official brand Hecoprima®, a high-quality, recycled staple fibre, from both post-industrial polyester textile waste and post-consumer PET bottles.
Since the beginning of its development in 2020, Hecoprima® has succeeded in turning polyester waste into a fiber with 1.4 D x 38mm SDRW suitable for the application in textile and apparel products.
Through this project, a high-quality recycled fibre from textile waste materials is commercially available from Indonesia, helping to reduce industrial waste and to close the loop for material cycles in the global fashion industry.
The development of Hecoprima was conducted as part of a Public-Private-Partnership project “Circular textile economy through resource efficiency and optimized waste- and supply chain management for high-quality recycled polyester in Indonesia“, co-financed by the German Investment and Development Corporation (DEG) from public funds of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and has been conceptualised and implemented by expert consultants of Closed Loop Fashion.