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Patagonia: On The Road to 100% Recyclability

patagoniaClothing manufacturer Patagonia is still working to meet its goal of recycling 100 percent of its products by 2010, according to the company’s latest report. In 2005, Patagonia announced a new line of recyclable Capilene Performance Base Layer garments, together with a five-year goal to make all Patagonia products recyclable through its Common Threads Garment Recycling Program. This initiative allows customers to return used clothing, which is in turn sent to a fiber manufacturer that uses those items to make new products.

In addition to Capilene garments, the company also recycles 100-percent cotton T-shirts, Patagonia fleece, as well as Polartec fleece from any brand. The company also recycles some board shorts, polyester jackets and nylon garments.

However, Patagonia still faces recycling challenges for other products such as luggage, wetsuits, shoes, hats and gloves.

The gear and clothing company has made progress. Since Patagonia first launched the Common Threads program, it has recycled more than 6,000 kg of garments, and has collected much more, says the company. But still, this does not represent a significant amount compared to how many garments Patagonia sells, or how many garments are thrown into landfills, according to the report.

In fall 2009, about 80 percent of Patagonia apparel will be recyclable through the Common Threads program. The most challenging clothing items for recycling are down-filled garments, shells with polyurethane barriers, fabrics with high spandex content and small items that contain more trim than fabric, says the company.

Looking ahead, Patagonia will continue to partner with TEIJIN Inc., a large Japanese textile company, which developed Eco-Circle, the closed-loop, garment-to-garment recycling process for the company’s Capilene underwear.  The company also will evaluate the potential to sew old garments into repurposed products, and look for recyclers that are independent from the apparel industry but can recycle or down-cycle old garments into something useful.

Patagonia says there are still many challenges to recycling garments, whether it’s through a chemical or mechanical process. In addition, the company is reaching capacity constraints with some of its recycling partners. Then there is the cost. It takes a large capital investment to buy the recycling machines, and there is the shipping cost of the old garments, which depends on the distance, the mode of transport, and the cost of fuel, says the company.

Other corporate sustainability efforts include the company’s Footprint Chronicles program that tracks, measures and reports on the environmental impact of its products, as well as its LEED Gold-certified 171,000-square-foot addition to its distribution center in Reno, Nevada.

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