Chemical recycling is the chemical breakdown of a material into its basic building blocks.
Chemical recycling can be used on materials such as polyester and nylon to break them down into their basic building blocks and remove colorants and other contaminants. This process enables synthetic textiles, which couldn’t otherwise be recycled, to become recyclable. Mechanical recycling is more established, but chemical recycling allows for greater flexibility in quality, color and performance in the final product.
While chemical recycling is more energy intensive than a mechanical process, there are still environmental savings. When polyester is chemically recycled through a process called glycolysis, for example, leads to a 35% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to virgin polyester.
Turning waste into something new
Where We Are
Globally, chemical-recycling processes need more voices demanding that they exist. We’re participating, not just by using this process with synthetic materials like polyester, nylon and ECONYL®, but also with natural fibers such as REFIBRA® lyocell (essentially broken down TENCEL®). If others contribute to this demand, it will help bolster the needed support for more advanced technology and the necessary infrastructure on a global scale.
Chemical recycling of textiles lacks a well-established collection infrastructure (think of the scarcity of recycling bins for old garments to be taken to a recycling plant). Similar to mechanical recycling challenges, certain contaminants and blends, such as spandex in a jacket, make the chemical recycling of fabric challenging.
As we move toward using only recycled materials in the garments we make, chemical recycling is important to keep the quality and performance of our fabrics up to our standards. There is so much potential to turn the ugliest, dirtiest, least-desired waste into beautiful and useful fibers, materials and eventually garments that you’ll wear.
We continue to support the development of new chemical-recycling technologies and establishing solid supply chains.