Sustainability: A Movement, Not a Moment, for the Good of Tomorrow
As we celebrate America Recycles Day this month, we continue to find ourselves in unprecedented times. One thing the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light is that now, more than ever, sustainability is important for our future. An EPA study found that every 10,000 tons of materials recycled supports nearly 16 jobs and $760,000 in wages. Customers are demanding sustainability because they know it makes a difference in the health of people and our planet.
One company’s unique story
Unifi, Inc., one of the world's leading innovators in recycled yarns, is a champion for sustainability. The North Carolina-based company transforms recycled plastic bottles into performance fibers. It all begins when you make the decision to throw your plastic bottle into a recycling container instead of a trash can. Recycled bottles are collected and taken to material recovery facilities, then brought to the REPREVE® Bottle Processing Center in Reidsville, N.C. where they 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. The yarn is either woven or knit into fabric that goes into items you use every day, including apparel, shoes, socks, home furnishings and automotive seating.
Unifi recently reached a key goal it set in 2017, recycling more than 20 billion PET bottles and transforming them into REPREVE, which is now used by more than 700 global brands and textile manufacturers worldwide. To put this milestone into context, 20 billion single-serve plastic bottles can physically circle the earth approximately 100 times or fill the Empire State building more than 13 times.
In addition to keeping bottles out of landfills and giving them a second life, REPREVE production uses less energy and water, while also producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to manufacturing virgin synthetic fibers. Unifi is now on track to reach its goal of recycling 30 billion bottles by 2022.
Protecting Our Oceans
Customers are serious about reducing ocean plastic waste. When the World Economic Forum released a report in 2016 predicting that by 2050 there would be more plastic in the ocean than fish, Unifi wanted to help play a role in reducing ocean pollution. That’s why the company launched Our Ocean™ fiber—an expansion of its REPREVE product line—made specifically with ocean-bound plastic.
Unifi collects post-consumer plastic bottles within 50 kilometers of coastlines in countries and regions that lack formal waste or recycling systems. Because 80% of ocean plastic comes from land-based sources, and 75% of that is uncollected waste, the company’s approach prevents plastic waste from ever entering the ocean.
“People around the globe are asking, ‘how can we save our oceans from plastic pollution?’ We listened and carefully designed meaningful processes to address this problem directly,” said Unifi CEO Eddie Ingle. “Several swimwear, footwear, and backpack and bag brands are using REPREVE Our Ocean, and we’re proud to provide a textile solution to help protect this critical ecosystem.”
The Catalyst for a Better Future
To further demonstrate its commitment to sustainability, Unifi recently released its sustainability report. It details the company’s vision to make everyday life better by transforming the world’s products through sustainable innovation. That includes outlining its recycling and circular economy efforts, reducing energy, water and carbon emissions throughout its manufacturing process, and supply chain integrity. It also lays out details on Unifi’s deep commitment to its employees in the communities they serve around the world.
Unifi envisions a world where fibers solve many of life’s everyday challenges, where recycled products with high performance have become the norm, and where being sustainable creates an innovative closed loop that continues for generations to come.
“We see sustainability as a movement – not a moment,” Ingle added. “It is a core strategic pillar that permeates all aspects of our organization. We strive to create a positive impact for our people, our business and our planet, while supporting our customers’ growth and sustainability goals through our product offerings.”
It Starts With You
When you make the choice to throw your plastic bottle into a recycling container, you’re making a choice for the good of tomorrow. That bottle can become your shirt, a part of your car, the next bottle in your hand, or the hat on your head. The demand for recycled materials continues to grow because of you. Unifi encourages every American to contribute by recycling right, not only on America Recycles Day, but all year long.