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Evrnu – cotton recycling and the chances we have working on man-made cellulosic fibers

«Roughly 2.8 tons of water go into one t-shirt». The full life cycle for 1 kg of polyester is estimated to be responsible for the release of more than 30kg of carbon dioxide, and 20 kg associated with cotton

Fashion, most notably fast fashion, is responsible for up to 35% of micro-plastic flows into the ocean; this equates to approximately 350,000 tons. Whilst not necessarily perceived as being ‘made from plastic’ many items of apparel have traces of plastic-based fibers which breakdown as the material is washed or begins to wear down over time. More than half a million tons of microfibers enter waterways because of the washing of synthetic textiles. Recycled polyester decomposes and breaks into micro plastics and microfibers easier and faster than virgin fabrics. Christopher Stanev is confident that Evrnu’s innovation in fiber production has the opportunity to help to reduce the amount of plastics leaching out into the atmosphere. «If cotton or other cellulosic fibers can keep up and satisfy the 100 million tons of demand, there’s no reason why we can’t use a regenerated natural fiber from beginning to end. The only reason that polyester exists today is because natural fibers cannot keep up. We can make our fibers perform as well, if not better, than synthetic fibers, so there will be little need in the future for materials that are at risk of releasing micro plastics into the atmosphere». With textile innovation such as that seen with NuCycl, a shift in the way that we see the need for specific textiles could change.

Evrnu is a Seattle-based textile innovation company working to develop fibers in ways that were previously considered ‘impossible’. Their regenerative fiber technologies enable new products to be made from discarded clothing multiple times without losing quality. This helps to counteract the environmental effects of both natural and synthetic fibers by turning a waste product into a new feedstock. Co-founders of Evrnu, Christopher Stanev and Stacy Flynn have been working towards creating a ‘higher level of consciousness’ for both textile producers and their consumers. CEO Stacy was motivated to make a change to the textile industry as a reaction to a trip she took to China; «I was shocked with how people were living as a result of how we make textiles and apparel. The impact on air and on water was striking; so much so that I could hardly see my colleague when getting out of the car». They wanted to combat the low quantities of recycled materials used in clothing to go above the average 1%.

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The adidas by Stella McCartney Infinite Hoodie is 100% recyclable and made out of NuCycl fiber and virgin cotton

When pressed as to where the majority of their waste textiles are sourced from, Stacy highlighted the high quantities of waste that are found in the US; «today, consumers are still disposing of 80% but that volume has increased to around 17 million tons per year». Evrnu relies on garments with a high cotton quantity to produce NuCycl and cotton and polyester make up 90% of the global apparel market. For Evrnu, they are well placed to remove large quantities of waste from ending their life in landfill. There have been recent legislative changes which could encourage the shift to a more conscious disposal of waste textiles. New EU legislation will mandate the separation of textile waste from other waste streams by 2050 to accelerate the amount of textiles available to be collected; a source that technologies will be able to harness.

Using high-percentage cotton waste materials, the NuCycl technology uses re-polymerization to convert original fiber molecules (from recycled materials) into high performing renewable fibers allowing waste to be transformed into a valuable resource. In order to produce their fiber, Stacy describes how they rely on using 95% cotton materials that are sorted mechanically using infrared scanning technology and utilizing pre-existing paper pulping mills to make a pulp from cotton garment waste. Their focus is on training mills to use their technologies so as to ensure that innovation can be widely offered. The resulting engineered fiber allows for characteristics to be customized so as to engineer a fiber that is specific, and useful, to the customer.

«With a 95% cotton garment, minus trims and impurities we can end up with 90% pure cellulose. Using pure cotton directly from the field is less efficient in terms of yield as there is a high quantity of waste that is left in the field. Man-made cellulosic fibers use trees which enables a 30-35% yield of cellulose. only have 30 – 35% cellulose inside». The process itself is more efficient than using raw materials; it only requires approximately 1 ton of cotton waste to generate 1 ton of cellulosic pulp, compared with up to 3 tons of wood required for the same output. 

During the early innovation stages, Stacy discovered that «90% of all the clothes are made from two fibers; polyester and cotton. Both of these require a tremendous amount of natural resources just to be created. Roughly 2.8 tons of water go into one t-shirt». The full life cycle for 1 kg of polyester is estimated to be responsible for the release of more than 30kg of carbon dioxide, and 20 kg associated with cotton. These were issues that Evrnu saw as needing to be overcome so NuCycl attempts to combat the main issues in turn. Producing NuCycl lowers the overall carbon footprint in comparison to producing fibers from virgin materials by diverting textiles from landfill. When clothes end their lives in landfill, they produce large quantities of methane; a more environmentally damaging greenhouse gas than CO2. Each step of production has been designed in a cyclical way so as to minimize water waste. Evrnu fibers reduce the impact; they use 98% less water than virgin cotton and can cut CO2 emissions by 90% compared to polyester production.

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Evrnu separates the tissue already used up to a molecular level to realign them in a high quality fiber

Textile-to-textile recycling has the opportunity to close the loop in Man-Made cellulosic fiber production. A recent Canopy report forecasted that converting 25% of cotton and rayon textile waste into new dissolving pulp could help to eradicate the need for virgin wood fiber in the production of viscose. The vision for a new man-made cellulosic fiber production system involves regenerating ecosystems, producing with zero harm, enabling circular systems, creating prosperity and upholding rights of the community. 

With changing perceptions with respect to the environment and the role that fashion has to play in its degradation, consumers have begun to demand more information about the products that they buy. Approximately 80% of consumers are demanding transparency and information from fashion brands with respect to their commitment to sustainability. With these pressures comes the need for businesses to adapt their models to appeal to their audience. Stacy affirms that the consumer does have power to create change, yet to instigate a shift within the fashion industry «it’s crucial that we take action on the things that are visible to us; stay focused on the change that you would like to see. Don’t be afraid to make those changes». Evrnu is working to educate both the consumer and the business owner on textile recycling so that they can make informed changes to production and purchasing.

A systemic change is possible, and Stacy and Christopher are providing innovation in this field to ensure that global changes can take place. «If we’re looking at the world in 2050 we’re looking at it with garment to garment recycling as a norm; all products will be designed to go back into the system to be turned into a new product. We will have a closed circuit supply chain where we’re giving at the same rate as we’re taking; we’ll be able to work on a reciprocity model». In acting as a catalyst for this, and informing individuals on the impacts that they have, Evrnu can begin to show that use of only recycled fibers can be the future.

IMAGE GALLERY

Evrnu® is a textile innovations company creating a circular ecosystem. Evrnu technologies are used to create engineered fibers with performance and environmental advantages, made from discarded clothing. NuCycl Technologies by Evrnu include: Regenerative Cellulosics, Next generation regenerative Cellulosic solvent systems, Regenerative Polyester, Recoverable Stretch, Bio Engineered Fibers.

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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