The US manufacturer Unifi has transformed billion of polyethene (PET) bottles into plastic yarn. America roughly through over 35 billion plastic bottles in the bin every year. Many brands have taken notice of the adverse impacts and look to make a change.
More leading brands such as Ford, Fossil, H&M, Levi’s and The North Face have turned to recycled content in their products. Eddie Ingle, the CEO of the textile manufacturer at Unifi, stated that these brands are opting for sustainability as a ‘growth engine’.
Ingle stated that their process embedded properties like wicking, adaptive warming and cooling, water repellence and more at the fibre level to guarantee reliability and durability.
The first step involves collecting PET bottles and then ensuring it is thoroughly cleaned. The following set includes chopping them up and sending them through a dryer to get rid of moisture. Then it is melted and reformulated into recycled chips. The chips then enter a proprietary extrusion and texturing process to transform into Repreve recycled fibre.
Every extrusion disc has 68 tiny holes out of which the molten plastic is spun into filament, which is five times finer than a human hair. The filament cools and hardens as it exists the recycling line. This material is so delicate it sometimes breaks, whereupon it is returned to the recycling process.
The separated strands are guided into a funnel and joined together into strong yarn. The yarn is then further collected onto a big roller and each batch is gathered on spools. The spool racks up yarns at 200km/hr. The yarn is collected and transported to the respective storage units. At this point the yarn has gained stiffness and is almost as dense as a fossil. To give it more flexibility, the material is moved around on heated rollers. The samples of each batch are carefully examined by the lab technicians, to count the number of filaments to verify optimal material characteristics.
The production of 1kg of recycled yarn conserves enough energy to power a ﬂuorescent light bulb for over 40 days.
Working in collaboration with the right companies is vital to progress for the company. Unifi recently partnered with tech supplier Oerlikon to create a specially designed pilot machine, called ‘eAFK Evo’. The project has been in progress since last summer at Unifi’s headquarters to produce both virgin and recycled polyester and polyamide yarns.
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