Beyond Bottles

– The Future of Polyester

This year’s Focus Topic “Beyond Bottles” highlights the importance of alternatives to PET recycling – in particular with regard to upcoming legal regulations and circular economy principles. Considering the variety of polyester types, micro-plastics and the increasing need to replace PET with alternative raw materials, the branch is now facing major challenges. Solutions to this could include an increase in textile-to-textile recycling, along with polyester alternatives from food waste and the increased deployment of natural fibers.

The incoming legislation is to loop waste drinks bottles back into new ones. This will lead to a shortage of feed-stock of rPET, one of the cornerstones of the apparel industry. The big soft-drinks brands had claimed that the drinkers regarded recycled plastic as contaminated, but the newer Gen Z have complete faith in the technology. The EU Green Deal (and the New York Fashion Sustainability & Social Accountability Act) are tuned to Circular Economy principles – the mainstays of which are:

  1. To keep the original product going for as long as possible
  2. Eliminate waste & harmful chemicals from the process
  3. To regenerate both new business systems & nature

The first is to encourage Eco-Design: designing for repair & integrating recycled materials, as well as end-of-life of the product; the second is more Due Diligence + the Digital Product Passport; the last is both better materials and new business models (like Rental, Resale, Servicing). In support of this will be a Green Claims section on misleading messaging.

The primary objective is to reduce the amount of (repeated) consumption – we need to take care of resources before either they run out or extracting them creates worse. PD/ FFF/ FTS are set up to produce quality conversations that will raise the standards of the industry – however there has been much talk & not enough action.

Key learning is that there is not an ideal solution for everyone to follow – yet; hence more attention needs to be paid to possible solutions. There is not time to wait for the best solution to be developed (if we are going to avoid the Climate Crisis). As an industry we must proactively search for better. We must push for something at scale & as waste is reprocessed closer to home there should be greater adoption of the 4th Industrial Revolution (as more product is made nearby). There is a need for more diversity of solutions as well. Alec Leach is known for asking a brilliant set of questions in The World Is On Fire But We’re Still Buying Shoes: how many brands can answer these accusations of apparel companies.

  1. Trash the planet for profit?
  2. Why not responsible for the Supply chain?
  3. Commission manufacture, but absolved of post purchase responsibilities?
  4. Why is good practice only an option?

The leadership of the Outdoor & Sports Industries aims to champion best practice in this area, before regulations come into effect. Associated to this topic are numerous options that need resolution. It is important to also have profit as an undercurrent given the knowledge that technology will advance faster with increased attention to this area. Iterate and learn, repeating the process as needed. Embrace progress over perfection. Kudos to the European Outdoor Group for prioritising technical textiles in the Race to Zero commitment at COP 28. Despite the event's mixed results, it's a positive step forward, placing our industry in crucial discussions.

The Focus Topic opens a host of possibilities as there is more than one type of Polyester: PHA, PHB, PTT, PBT; even Polycarbonate. It has also given rise to the whole of the attention to micro-plastics (& the accompanying misinformation).

The question is increasingly arising: do we need to replace PET as a material type or seek alternative feedstock inputs? Are there more suitable material types for corresponding applications? What might possible end-of-life solutions look like? Is the Textile Industry adequately equipped for these changes with its complex manufacturing processes?

Textile-to-textile recycling will play a crucial role in exploring alternative raw materials, especially in light of upcoming legal regulations and the principles of the circular economy.

However, an increasing number of questions are arising regarding feasibility, especially when it comes to mixed fibres or chemicals of concern (PFAS) that may be contained in the waste material. In the sorting process, the extended use of automation (AI & DPP) will be unavoidable.

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© 2024 Charles Ross

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Exhibitor List March 2024