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Better Businesses: REPREVE Turns Scrap Material into Gear

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[leadin]Have you ever wondered what exactly our clothing fabric is made of?[/leadin]

Repreve recycling 1

Take Polyester for instance, what in the world is polyester actually? Many companies who don’t produce their own fabrics will buy from textile manufacturers. REPREVE is a company under the global textile manufacturing business, Unifi. REPREVE is challenging and changing the current textile industry…and they want you to know it. They are known for taking recycled plastic and through clean and eco friendly processes, turning those plastic materials into fabric and yarn. Many of the outdoor companies we buy from use REPREVE in some of their products. I had the opportunity to speak with REPREVE and ask them a bit more about their environmental endeavors.

What spawned and inspired REPREVE? Who is behind this innovation?

Sustainability has always been important for Unifi, and as part of this effort, we were looking at ways to reduce our waste in so in 2006, we started recycling our own waste and developed the 1st REPREVE product…in 2007, we commercialized our REPREVE product by recycling our internal waste and blending it with post-consumer plastics; to form the REPREVE hybrid yarn. Since 2007, we have introduced additional recycled products, including a fiber made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. Today, we recycled over 2 billion plastic bottles.

repreve recycling center

What all does REPREVE recycle?

REPREVE is made of recycled material, including PET plastic bottles, the ones with the recycle code number 1 on the bottom. REPREVE can recycle specific polyester based fabric waste back into products through their REPREVE Textile Takeback Program.

Do we have to recycle anywhere specific for REPREVE to obtain our waste?

Bottles come from consumers who recycle at curbside, so plastic bottles from any curbside recycling bins could end up in REPREVE yarn.

Can you explain your Textile Takeback program?

REPREVE Textile Takeback helps reduce and repurpose scraps, providing the industry with a new way to cut out waste and move toward a zero waste goal for qualifying polyester based fabrics. The program recycles REPREVE based fabrics into REPREVE Takeback fibers, and like all REPREVE fibers, REPREVE Takeback fiber is traceable, transparent, and certified through the use of FiberPrint™ technology. With the help of The North Face and other environmentally responsible brands, the REPREVE Textile Takeback program recently surpassed three million pounds in takeback fabric.

Can the public/consumer be involved in the Textile Takeback program or just companies that use REPREVE to make their products?

Currently, there’s no practice in place to accept fabric scraps from consumers.


What brands and products can we look for that are made with REPREVE material?

Several leading brands use REPREVE, including The North Face, Patagonia, Ford, Quiksilver, Haggar, Volcom and Polartec.

How much of REPREVE is processed here locally in the US? Has staying local posed any obstacles in business development?

We are an American-based company with global operations, so that we can be available for our customers wherever they are doing business in the world; however, the U.S. is our hub of development, with our flagship plants in Yadkinville, Madison and Reidsville, N.C. 

In what ways does your company save energy and resources?

REPREVE conserves resources because it offsets the need to use newly refined crude oil. Compared to making virgin synthetic fibers, REPREVE uses less energy and water, and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions. But it goes beyond making eco-friendly products, like REPREVE. We have been completely landfill-free at all of our domestic locations for more than a year. We operate our own trucking fleet in order to reduce emissions, and closely monitor electricity and water usage for better efficiency. We also try to drive change through our #TurnItGreen initiative, in which we use high visibility partnerships and consumer activations to educate and raise awareness around recycling.

What are some areas of growth and improvement for your company?

When we opened the REPREVE Recycling Center in 2010, our initial domestic capacity for REPREVE production was 42 million lbs. per year. Unifi recently expanded the REPREVE Recycling Center, increasing total capacity for REPREVE production to more than 70 million lbs. We also have built an incredible program around the authenticity and benefits of REPREVE through programs like #TurnItGreen and FiberPrint technology, which is translating into retail marketing growth.


What can we expect to see in the future for REPREVE?

As REPREVE continues to gain presence at the consumer level, our customer base is supporting our efforts to drive REPREVE-based education to consumers. We expect to see our #TurnItGreen initiative grow through continued collaborations with the Detroit Lions and UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as others, to help spread the message of the importance of recycling and choosing recycled products.

When we first introduced REPREVE in 2007, there was very limited knowledge about what happens to plastic bottles when you recycle them. Our goal is to help drive awareness that bottles can be turned into cool stuff; because we understand that there is a strong emotional connection when consumers realize that recycled bottles can be turned into products they use or wear in their everyday lives. As REPREVE increases education, consumers become more aware, which helps drive behavior change.

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