Stopping the Flow
Coastal Efforts Escalate Scalable, Sustainable Solutions to Ocean-Bound Plastic Waste.
Tons of plastic end up in the sea every year and hundreds of thousands of pieces of plastic waste now float in every area of the oceans. Coastal regions are major contributors to this problem; According to recent statistics, 80 percent of ocean plastics originate from these locales.
Textile suppliers are stepping up efforts around this environmental issue with programs focused on infrastructure investment and collaborative initiatives along shorelines. The latest developments focus on creating supply chains that can support eco-responsible production of high-performing textiles made from ocean-bound plastic waste. Increasingly comprehensive in scope, new initiatives involve coordinating with established grassroots organizations to move the needle in terms of demand, quality and transparency around manufacture of recycled ocean plastics captured in high-risk coastal locations.
“Our focus for this enterprise-level project is something sustainable, a business that allows our mission to grow and grow and grow and do good,” explains Ed Rubin, Gore project champion, regarding Gore’s equity investment in Bionic to help streamline its fiber supply chain and grow its Costa Rica operation.
Similarly, Nan Ya Plastics, with its SAYA Coastal offering under the SAYA brand, and Unifi through its REPREVE Our Ocean program, are committed to stopping the flow of plastics into the sea. Launched in June 2019, Repreve Our Ocean is seeing really strong interest, according to Unifi, while Nan Ya reports large scale investment with plans to expand its global network.
While ocean plastics recycling is certainly a compelling story, textile firms are creating compelling solutions. Here’s how Saya, Gore and Unifi are leading the way.
Saya Coastal - Turning microplastics into microfibers
Currently, SAYA collects PET bottles from four zones in Thailand: Zone 1: Pattaya Beach; Zone 2: Pattaya Central Beach; Zone 3: Chanthaburi and Trat; Zone 4: South of Thailand. SAYA works with OceanCycle’s network of certified coastal recyclers, to collect the bottles from these zones with a collecting range that is 20 kilometers from the coastline. Cooperation with local partners includes collecting, washing and making PET flakes. SAYA has provided each partner with Nan Ya’s proprietary technology and equipment to convert the flakes into chips for streamlined efficiency. Then SAYA collects the chips or flakes and redistributes them to mill partners to produce SAYA Coastal fibers.
According to the company, each SAYA chip converting system costs about $3M USD, for a total of $12M USD.
SAYA holds the key technology in converting collected PET bottles to performance chips and fiber and is currently seeking partnerships around the world to implement these technologies and facilities in strategic coastal cities and beaches to join the SAYA recycling network.
“We believe there will be increased demand for recycled fiber from the U.S. and we are looking into adding the technology to our South Carolina factory which could also incorporate coastal recycling,” company SVP, S.Y Huang.
Repreve - Our Ocean: Sourcing from High Risk Areas
Launched in June 2019, Unifi’s Repreve Our Ocean continues to expand. Nixon Bags launched a line made specifically with Our Ocean, footwear brand Avre uses it as well, and several swimwear brands are also using Repreve Our Ocean.
Repreve Our Ocean, working with local facilities, collects bottles within 50 kilometers of waterways or coastal areas located in Americas and Asia. Once collected, plastic is brought to the Repreve Bottle Processing Center in Reidsville, NC, where bottles are sorted, cleaned and chopped into bottle flake. That flake is melted and extruded into Repreve chip, which is then spun into REPREVE performance recycled yarn that is either woven or knit into fabric.
Transparency is an important differentiator of Repreve Our Ocean. Unifi uses Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), an international leader in third-party certification, validation, and verification for environmental, sustainability, and food safety and quality performance claims. Additionally, Unifi includes a proprietary tracer in every pound of Repreve polyester and nylon produced throughout the world such that REPREVE and REPREVE Our Ocean fibers are embedded with a proprietary FiberPrint technology that helps customers avoid false environmental claims.
“In addition to our SCS, GRS, Oeko-tex and Ocean Cycle certifications for recycled content, we issue our own U-Trust Certifications by testing fabrics and/or garments for the presence of REPREVE fiber to further assure our customers their product is made with recycled REPREVE content,” confirmed Jay Hertwig, SVP, Commercialization, Unifi Manufacturing.
Internal market research showed consumers are on board with Repreve Our Ocean. In a recent poll of 500 consumers, 55 percent responded that Repreve Our Ocean is something they would like to see their favorite brand use and 58 percent of those surveyed agreed that products made with Repreve Our Ocean are worth paying more for.
W.L. Gore - Scaling a Supply Chain through Collaboration
Gore has been working closely with BIONIC over the past three years on product and infrastructure development. The companies recently achieved an early milestone in the relationship with the recovery, processing and shipment of approximately 10 tons of ocean and ocean-bound plastics for conversion into high-performance textiles and products.
According to Rubin, “While our initial efforts will focus on the development of a fully-traceable supply chain for high performance textiles made from plastics collected from coastal communities, we also see potential in incorporating Bionic’s recycled polymers in other aspects of our diverse product portfolio.”
Bionic is a supplier of textiles and polymers made with coastal and marine plastic for apparel, footwear and bags for consumer and industrial markets.
Described as a “true collaboration,” Bionic offers expertise in grassroots collection and doing meaningful work in the community, while Gore offers scalability and enhancement of performance, and together they share the goal of driving demand for the ocean plastics category by building a sustainable supply chain for upcycled marine bound plastics that meet Gore’s high standards of durability, longevity and value.
“Right now we are in the development process and validating that the material meets our performance criteria. Once that is complete, we’ll be looking at multiple channels of business models,” explained Rubin, who confirmed that while there is brand crossover potential with Bionic, it is too soon to announce any partnerships. When asked if waterproof/breathables made from plastic bottles captured from coastal areas is on Gore’s horizon, Rubin stressed the immediate goals of creating high-performance textiles and propelling the collaboration forward.
Currently the pilot community is in a remote peninsula that sits off the mainland of Costa Rica. The production scale prototype facility in Santa Teresa has 150 ton capacity and can be increased, and duplicated in other parts within and outside of Costa Rica.
“Our focus for this project is stopping the flow of plastics into the ocean and taking a long term view,” Rubin shared. “The big difference here is creating high-quality textiles for durable, long lasting garments and reducing the environmental impact.”