AFTERLIFE 5 – BIO CHEMICAL RECYCLE

We design with the end in mind. Read on for part 5 of our Afterlife Mini-Series.

27.06.2020

Afterlife 5 – Bio Chemical Recycle
Courtney Holm


You made it. Part five is the final piece of the Garment Afterlife puzzle. I sure hope it's all become less puzzling for all of us, having navigated through so many end of life options, none of which are landfill, mind you.

Please check out parts 1. Disassemble, 2. Compost, 3. Biodegrade and 4. Mechanical Recycle if you haven't done so yet. You'll be all the smarter before reading our more complex, science-y Garment Afterlife solution, Bio Chemical Recycle. It may sound tricky, and that's because it is.

I talked at length about the mechanical recycling process in our last blog post, and one thing mentioned was that the technology is pretty simple. It's also been around for a really long time. Sure it might require some innovations in how we use it to its best potential but overall not a lot needs "inventing". So now it's time to take a look to the (hopefully not too distant) future where the tech is bit more complex and experimental with a handful of companies trying to nail a solution that could be viable for commercial scale.

Firstly, the name. Bio Chemical recycling is an A.BCH reference to the pure cellulosic component that would be required for this kind of recycling. In the industry it would be generally known as "chemical recycling" but we wish to make the distinction from the chemical recycling process used for synthetic fibre recycling which is being performed at scale by a couple of companies across Asia like Unifi and Tintex. It would be a whole lot simpler to "bio-checmically" recycle A.BCH goods compared to almost every other garment out there in the marketplace, this is because ours do not need to be chemically separated before hand into synthetics and cellulose. We've basically done half the work. 

So how DOES this work? Well, it requires taking a garment and bringing it back to its original building blocks at a molecular level through a chemical process that will allow the extraction of new filament fibres of equal or higher value than the input. Simple, right? The process works at its best with homogeneous cellulose materials with the reprocessing looking very similar to that of viscose or lyocell manufacturing. Though, these processes are more advanced than traditional viscose manufacturing and hopefully won't require the use of toxic chemicals, but that really depends on the recycling tech. There are a few companies out there leading the way in this space, including Worn Again Technologies, Evrnu, Re:Newcell and Inifinited Fibres. Each has their own trade secret for how they regenerate fibre from old clothes. There's also Novotex, who is working on two different kinds of chemical recycling separation technologies, which are interesting and worth checking out. We did a plant tour at their facility in December 2018, and you can read about it here.

So what clothes WOULD be ideal for this kind of recycling? Check out our case study below to learn more.

Can we really find a way to generate new material from old clothes? Image by Katie Goodwin.


Afterlife Case Study 5 – Bio Chemical Recycle

Preamble: While there are in fact several, if not all, A.BCH garments that would be suitable for bio chemical recycling, we thought we would highlight our cellulosic blended garments as an ideal alternative to mechanical recycling (which as we discussed in our previous post, benefits greater from a pure monomaterial, especially 100% cotton). We don't often use fibre blends in our fabrics as it does limit the end of life value somewhat so when we do, we are careful to do so with exclusively cellulose based materials. Here we will highlight our 55% GOTS Organic Cotton 45% Lenzing Tencel Lyocell shirts. You could also apply this theory to our A.27 Hemp/Organic Cotton T-Shirt or any of our Lenzing Tencel Lyocell garments (let's call them Tencel from now on), which are ideal candidates for bio-chemical recycling, given the recycled output would be almost identical to the input. Super freaky closed loop!

Birth ➝ The RL16 Bowling Shirt and RL17 Shirt Dress are blended fibre garments, like many fashion pieces on the market yet completely unlike them due to the exclusive cellulose makeup. Both are predominantly made from a luxury lightweight Japanese milled woven fabric, a blend of Turkish GOTS certified organic cotton and Austrian Tencel - which if you didn't know already, begins its life as eucalyptus trees. Other additions for both pieces include Tencel sewing threads, organic cotton interlining, corozo nut buttons and organic cotton labels and size pips. While each of these components seem great, being the most sustainable versions of themselves, the garments are still too "mixed up" to be super valuable for mechanical recycling. And, while you could cut them up for the compost, saving them for bio-chemical recycling would be the best end-of-life for re-extracting the most value from waste.

Life ➝ Built to be loved and treasured, both of these shirts are delicate but well made articles designed for layering and trans-seasonality. Shirts that sit loosely around the body should require less laundering, and the naturally antibacterial properties of Tencel will mean hanging the shirt in a well ventilated room and putting off that extra load of washing is totally doable. As always, repairs are covered for life, by us, whether its a loose button or a wear and tear rip, we've got you. 

Afterlife ➝ The RL16 and RL17 shirts are destined for bio chemical recycling due to a more complex web of materials and their fabulously cellulose heritage. Sometimes in our Red Line pieces, we will up-cycle a rPET label from previous garments, if this is the case, the label must be cut off and recycled separately. Depending on the tech, the buttons may also need to be removed and composted separately, however we are confident that the technology will improve to include non-fibrous cellulose in the future too - for now we'll let the recyclers decide and they can see the full bill of materials by searching the garment code listed on our site.

The rest of the garment can be pulped and liquified into a bio-based matter. This matter will be extruded and hardened into new fibres for spinning and weaving into entirely new (yet 100% recycled) materials that won’t lose their quality in the process. What. This may seem ahead of our time, yet if it's truly the future of textile recycling, shouldn't all garments be made for it, now? Transitioning to a circular system takes some leaps of faith, and we are leaping by designing all A.BCH garments to work within this future system with backups in the other four Garment Afterlife pathways covered previously. However we cannot do this alone, all clothing designers and manufacturers should be thinking this way. It's not only a moral imperative, it just makes good design sense, not to mention the economic value that textile recycling could uncover. The Ellen MacArther Foundation estimates there's something like USD 500 billion lost each year in global textile waste!

So... wanna wear the future? Here's three ways:

A.BCH RL16 Shirt on woman

Get your very own, made to order RL16 Bowling Shirt in Japanese milled, GOTS Organic Cotton and Tencel. It's the softest of peach colours and beautiful for layering under or over. Here is't pictured with our Tencel Crinkle shirt and Tencel Flow Trousers (coming soon).

Woman in A.BCH A.23 Tencel Dress

Shop our A.23 Lounge Dress in Tencel Luxe, featured here with our Light Trench (coming late 2020). This dress is easy and breezy. It's also beautiful and we think, better than silk, but you'd be forgiven for thinking it actually is silk.

Woman in RL17 A.BCH shirt dress

Or discover the RL17 Shirt Dress (did you know you can send us your measurements for a made-to-measure piece?) made from Japanese milled GOTS organic cotton and Tencel, featured here with a custom A.23 Dress of the same fabric. 

And that, my friends, concludes our A.BCH Garment Afterlife series! If you can't get enough, we'd love to hear about it! Also check out our video posts on the topic on our IGTV