It’s been a few months since my last blog. I’ve been up in Connecticut and we’ve been busy providing love and attention to a rescue dog we adopted on August 1. As the President of the Board of Directors of the Danbury Animal Welfare Society, I see hundreds of wonderful and deserving dogs and cats get forever homes every year because of the selfless work done by many staff and volunteers. It brings me great pleasure to see so many animals saved from almost certain death. But that pleasure pales in comparison to how Gail and I feel about saving our own dog, Murray, pictured above. If you are thinking about a pet, please adopt, don’t shop.
I was hoping to have something positive to blog about which is sometimes hard to find beyond the marketing of the sustainability bona fides of brands who burn unsold clothing to protect the brand pricing or discount and blow out already cheap fast fashion clothing to reduce unsold inventory.
But here is some good news. Parkdale Advanced Materials, Inc. (a division of Parkdale Mills) and Intrinsic Textiles LLC have formed a joint venture called Intrinsic Advanced Materials, which provides proven technology which could help in resolving the issue of polyester microfibers now getting into our waterways in increasing and alarming amounts.
I blogged about the issue of microfibers from apparel, released primarily during washing, making their way through municipal waste treatment facilities and ending up in rivers and oceans. Here is a link to that blog. In it, I noted that much empirical evidence pointed to clothes washing as the primary source and fleece garments as a greater contributor to the problem than other types of clothing like say, circular knit athletic wear. I also provided some common sense solutions which would be practical and not too costly, but somewhat difficult to implement on a large enough scale. The Intrinsic Advanced Materials JV offers a potential solution that can be more easily and widely scaled.
The joint venture will provide technology, called CiCLO, developed by Intrinsic Textiles which, as an additive to the polymer, will make polyester yarn and staple bio-degradable under certain conditions. According to their website, “CiCLO’s biomimetic process is activated under prolonged exposure to moisture, high heat, and microbes that exist in wastewater treatment plants and anaerobic landfill conditions. Product applications are endless, and fabrics can be cared for in their usual manner.”
According to Andrea Ferris, CEO of the new venture, rigorous testing has been performed to substantiate these claims and the technology is applicable to both virgin and recycled polyester yarn and staple, with no loss of physical properties. The studies were performed by an independent lab, conformed to ASTM Test Methods for biodegradation in WWTP sludge, landfills, and seawater, and confirmed biodegradability. In effect, some of the fibers entering the wastewater stream during washing will be captured in waste water treatment plant sludge, where they will be broken down to biogas and humus. Fibers not fully degraded by the time the sludge leaves the plant in the form of biosolids will continue to biodegrade in a landfill at a rate comparable to natural fibers, like wool. In some cases, WWTP sludge is used as fertilizer and further biodegradation there is being tested, with positive results expected. Fibers that do escape to waterways have proven to biodegrade in seawater at a rate many times faster than virgin polyester. I have seen the independent lab test results and they look very promising.
In addition, third-party testing of yarn and fabric properties showed little or no difference versus virgin polyester. I understand Parkdale has carefully vetted the technology and believes in it. Knowing Parkdale as well as I do, that is a credible vote of confidence. Ferris also indicated they have capacity that is easily scalable to address any foreseeable need.
Plastic microfibers in rivers and oceans is a growing and serious environmental concern. Until there is technology to prevent fibers from reaching waterways, whether it be by filtration or garment manufacturing, this problem is going to continue. Accepting that, here is a technology which appears to provide a viable and scalable solution. While pricing has not yet been established, I would suspect there will be a premium versus virgin or recycled polyester yarns. But this could be a game changer, addressing a real problem with an elegantly simple solution. I am hoping brands and retailers, especially those selling fleece, step up and consumers are willing to pay a little more to help clean up a growing problem.