Turning rags to riches through repolymerisation
Enabling the circular economy, where waste becomes the raw material for new products, is a significant but vital challenge to achieving a sustainable society.
A lot of clothing is made from fossil fuel-based polyester – the material polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This includes 33 million workwear garments supplied annually in the UK, 90% of which are incinerated or end up in landfill. But a small innovation company, Stuff4Life, working with Teesside University, developed a novel process for recycling these polyester garments.
How CPI helped
- Replicated and improved Stuff4Life’s existing lab-scale process at our formulation facility in Sedgefield.
- Scaled the Stuff4Life lab-scale repolymerisation process up to pilot scale at our National Industrial Biotechnology Facility in Wilton, Redcar.
- Undertook a techno-economic analysis (TEA) for scale-up to larger, commercial-scale production.
- Supporting the scale-up to commercial scale with the Arco-Stuff4Life joint venture, including further process optimisation.
- Demonstrated the process for breaking down textiles into terephthalic acid at the pilot-scale (10kg), ready for repolymerisation.
- Pilot-scale demonstration was key to Arco’s investment with Stuff4Life to further scale up and commercialise the process.
- Supporting the vision for a full-scale PET/polyester recycling plant in Teesside that will kickstart a circular economy for clothing in the UK.
- The pilot process attracted the interest of Arco, the UK’s leading workwear supplier, who invested with Stuff4Life to trial the materials and commercialise the process.
Working closely with Stuff4Life, Arco, and other partners, we have demonstrated an innovative recycling solution to help move the workwear and clothing industry towards a circular economy.
The Stuff4Life chemical recycling process takes used workwear and recycles it back to starting material from which new garments can be made. Our project was critical for Arco’s decision to invest in Stuff4Life and bring the process closer to commercialisation in Teesside. The Arco/Stuff4Life joint venture aims to build a recycling plant to initiate a truly circular economy for PET/ Polyester clothing.
If successful, this will establish an onshore UK supply chain for recycling PET/ Polyester that will provide new employment opportunities, reduce the industry’s dependency on fossil fuels, and reduce the volume of waste to landfill or incineration. The process can also significantly reduce pollution from the manufacturing process due to significant energy savings (59% saving compared to the use of virgin polyester), thus making a further impact on the sector’s carbon footprint.
The project was part of our European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) PROSPECT programme, designed to help SMEs across the North East region accelerate the commercialisation of their products.