JEPLAN chemically recycles pre- and postconsumer polyester textiles into new clothing, which diverts waste, reduces our reliance on virgin petroleum and supports circularity.
Postconsumer textile waste in the US now exceeds more than 34 billion pounds per year, a tenfold increase since the 1960s thanks in large part to fast fashion. And without sufficient end-of-life solutions in place, the environmental impact of that clothing waste is staggering. Only 15% is recycled, 19% is incinerated and 66% gets dumped in landfills, where the decomposing apparel releases methane that accelerates greenhouse gas emissions.
JEPLAN is a Japan-based recycling company working to tackle this problem on a global scale. Using pre-consumer textile waste (fabrics scraps and yarn waste from the manufacturing process) and postconsumer textile waste collected through JEPLAN’s BRING take-back program, the company chemically recycles polyethylene terephthalate (PET), aka polyester, into new clothing. This process diverts waste from landfills, decreases the need for virgin petroleum as a source of raw material and provides much-needed technology and infrastructure in the chemical recycling space.
Unlike mechanical recycling, which involves physically shredding fabric before re-spinning it into yarn, chemical recycling breaks down materials into their basic building blocks before creating like-new material again. Think of it like breaking a chain into individual links, then putting those links back together. In this circular model, JEPLAN's BRING Technology chemically recycles polyester clothing into pellets (also called resin) that our mill partner uses to produce yarn and virgin-quality fabric. Because chemical recycling removes any impurities or dyes, it gives the recycled product considerable flexibility in color, quality and performance.
The Path to Circularity
Traditional brand-supplier relationships have placed the lion's share of the work on the supplier. Our work with JEPLAN represents a major shift toward partnership and active collaboration within our supply chain.
For our Fall 2022 collection, we sent JEPLAN more than 2,200 pounds of postconsumer garments from our Reno, Nevada, warehouse to create recycled material for a Better Sweater® capsule collection. Through that input, as well as JEPLAN’s pre-consumer waste, we have incorporated 60% JEPLAN material in the main body fabric of our Fall 2022 Men's Better Sweater® Chore Coat and Women’s Better Sweater® Zippered Chore Jacket. (The remaining 40% of the material is made with recycled plastic bottles.)
The path to circularity demands close collaboration during the production process, with risk and responsibility shared among all players, including the material supplier, fabric producer and brand. As we work toward our goal of using 100% recycled materials and eliminating virgin petroleum from our products, it’s essential that we partner with our suppliers to support the development of new, high-quality chemical-recycling technologies.
For our entire Fall 2023 Better Sweater collection—which accounts for 14% of PET usage at Patagonia—we have purchased a significant amount of JEPLAN pellets for our Taiwan-based supplier Kingwhale Industries Corp. We’re transforming more than 130,000 pounds of pre-consumer JEPLAN material into 3% of the main body fabric in every Fall 2023 Better Sweater product. Using chemically recycled materials for our best-selling product line is a big step but just the beginning.
As part of our broader goal to make 50% of our synthetic products using secondary waste streams, we’re working toward building every Better Sweater product with at least 50% JEPLAN material. We hope this transition inspires other brands to work more closely with their suppliers in supporting new chemical recycling channels.