Behind the Seams: Recycling Done Right

You may remember that our polyester, what goes into our leggings and many of our upcoming pieces, is made using plastic water bottles (about 25 per one pair of our full length leggings). Have you ever wondered where and how we get all of them in there?

Our fabric starts as water bottles in Taiwan.Once overrun by garbage, Taiwan is now one of the world’s leaders in recycling. As of today, Taiwan recycles 55% of their waste, as compared to the United States, which recycles just 35%. How are they so great at it? Well, living on an island necessitates it, and with a dense population and not as much land, they became great because they had to be.

Every night in Taiwan recycling becomes a community affair - people gather and place their garbage into coded containers (recyclables, food waste, and garbage) before a truck picks it up. Many of this sorting is done together, with people taking time to talk to each other as they sort through the day’s waste.

Getting involved in recycling goes beyond this nightly ritual. We documented the Tzu Chi Foundation, a program that sets up micro-recycling centers in Taipei’s neighborhoods. Volunteers at these centers, often retired people who want to give back to the community, help people sort their trash to make the transition into recycling easier and to educate their community.

As soon as all the recycling is sorted at the centers, separated into the standard #1, #2, #3, and #4 plastic designations, they go to different processing centers. Our leggings are made from #1 plastic which is polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, the technical name for polyester yarn and fabrics.

The bottles are then shipped to our water bottle processing center that specializes in sorting, cleaning, and chipping down these water bottles to be made into our yarn.

Our water bottle processing facility has been certified by the government to resell plastic chips to manufacturers across Taiwan. This means more than just having a certificate hanging on the wall, it means that our facility is held accountable with strict security measures, and is required to be accountable for exactly how much plastic is taken in and how much is shipped out.

Why is being certified so important? It is well known fact in the recycling industry that in places like China with loose certifications and accountability standards, many will lie about where they get their plastic. It’s actually much easier to buy new plastic water bottles and recycle them, than to collect and sort post-consumer bottles. Often, recyclers will recycle brand new bottles as post consumer bottles for a higher price to brands that are trying to use recyclables in their products. Gross.

At our facility, we have watched as bales of post-consumer bottles from all over Taiwan arrive at the facility. Each bale is weighed and logged. From there the bales go into the first stage of processing; a steam wash to remove caps and labels. After the caps and labels are removed, the bottles are sorted by color. We use only clear bottles, and colored bottles are sent to be used by other companies.

Once the color sorting is done, we shred them down into tiny chips, wash them again, and place them in transport bags to be move shipped to our manufacturing facility. Each bag is weighed and logged again to make sure that the output is equal to input.

Our fabric facility specializes in eco-friendly and high-quality textiles and has developed one of the best processes for turning recycled water bottles into safe, soft fabric. When our spinning mill receives the chips, they go straight into another wash and dry before being sent to a machine that heats up the plastic and processes it into long strands that look a bit like spaghetti. From there, they are chipped into pellets, heated up again and turned into hair-like threads that get spun together into a soft yarn that is not dependent on virgin petroleum for processing, and has diverted bottles from the landfill.

Making great apparel is important - but doing it in a way that we can feel great about is even more important. We aren’t kidding around with this stuff.

As we prepare to launch our full line, we want you to feel good about what you’re going to be buying. And that can only happen if you get to know every step of our process. We can’t wait to share more.