From a slow start, this eco-friendly material is gaining consumer acceptance, and moving into new categories.
Within a decade, sustainable products have evolved from ‘window dressing’ to ‘must haves’ for brands and retailers. One of the core ways that brands are introducing sustainability into their collections is through the use of recycled materials – primarily recycled polyester. Major international brands including Zara, H&M, Marks and Spencer, Levi’s, G star, and others have taken this approach, with more joining them each season.
Currently, most of the world’s recycled polyester fiber production is being used for home textiles, according to Indorama Ventures Public Company Limited (IVL), the largest PET producer with a 20 percent market share globally.
“Almost 100 percent of recycled polyester is being used for products like bed linens, blankets, as well as for chair stuffing,” said Richard Jones, Vice President at Indorama Ventures.
“We want brands and consumers to know that recycled polyester has the same quality and hand feeling as regular [virgin] polyester. At the moment, we mainly see outdoors or sports brands like Nike or Adidas using recycled polyester, however as more people understand the environmental benefits of the recycled polyester, we expect more garment brands to start using it,” Mr. Jones told Inside Fashion.
Recycling Becomes a Growth Market
IVL entered the polyester recycling business in 2011 when the company bought a recycling company in Netherlands and started to make recycled PET bottle flakes. The company continues to expand its capacity for recycled products adding new recycling facilities in Mexico, Thailand, the US, and France.
Currently, IVL is the largest PET recycler in Europe recycling 2.2 billion post-consumer PET bottles each year to make fiber products at IVL’s facility in Ireland. The company has an annual capacity of 400,000 tons of recycled polyester.
“There is a lot of demand for recycled polyester fiber. Currently, our Thailand facility is running at full capacity. There are a lot of unmet demands, especially from European markets,” Harsha Reddy, Joint Vice President of Sustainability at IVL, told Inside Fashion.
“Recycled polyester it still a small part of what we do – it only accounts for 3-4 percent of our total fiber production. However, the strong demand for recycled product has us continuing to increase our capacity,” said Mr. Reddy.
Right now, most products made with recycled polyester are being imported into the European market, according to IVL.
Apart from adding facilities for producing recycled polyester product, IVL has also made a series of efforts to be more sustainable themselves. The company started to boost its energy efficiency and reduce its carbon footprint since the early 2000s. It was one of the first manufacturers that established an IEPL Environmental Management System to optimize resource consumption and reduce environmental impact.
“We made a commitment to pursue growth through sustainable development. It is not only meaningful for us, but also helps our customer to be more sustainable,” said Mr. Jones.
“We do product lift-cycle-analysis and monitor our wastewater, greenhouse gas emission. So when brands come to our customers and demand full tractability reports, they can show them that they use material from a sustainable supplier and that every step of the production is sustainable,” said Mr. Jones.
In September 2017, IVL was listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI Emerging Markets) for its achievements in sustainability. The Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI) is a leading global benchmark in corporate sustainability and socially responsible investment. The ranking is based on a comprehensive analysis and evaluation of economic, environment and social performance.