Chief Executive Officer Worn Again Technologies
Less than 1% of existing textiles is recycled
A world where less than 1 per cent of the existing textile is recycled demanded a plan to cut down if not eradicate textile waste, and a world where resources are kept in constant circulation. Worn Again Technologies had just this vision. Its advanced recycling technology that recaptures raw materials from non-reusable products (textiles, PET bottles and packaging) is working towards that mission with an expert team and strategic partners who have a shared ambition of creating a circular world. In an interview with Paulami Chatterjee, CEO Keith Wiggins, gives an overview of the textiles recycling world, the benefits it entails and the company's future plans.
How widespread is textile recycling in the world?
Currently, less than 1 per cent of existing textiles is recycled, so it is not as widespread as we aim for it to be. Many of today's recycling methods are mechanical and they encounter technical limitations such as the inability to handle blended textiles and colours as well economic challenges in scale up for new solutions like ours. These are the challenges we set out to overcome with our technology over eight years ago. From the beginning, our goals have been to design an environmentally beneficial and cost-effective process, that efficiently contributes to reducing the mountains of textile waste and that delivers virgin equivalent outputs.
What kind of economic, social and environmental benefits does this entail?
With our vision to eradicate textile waste, there are clear environmental benefits, as we believe that our process will use far less energy, heat, water and emit less CO2 compared to current end-of-life disposal and the production of virgin materials. We recapture raw materials and put them back in production supply chains, thereby maximising the replacement of virgin resources while diverting valuable textiles and PET plastics from landfill and incineration.
Socially, we aim high to create sustainable working environments, as well as providing good jobs and career opportunities in the regions we operate. Our goal is to involve governments and cities into our new business model, to solve their landfill and incineration problems, while improving the health and well-being of their citizens and stimulating jobs and economic growth.
Economically, we understand the commercial drivers of the market and we have been developing a cost competitive process, focused on minimising the capital and operational costs to build and run a Worn Again Technologies plant. Therefore, we want to bring our solution to market as soon as possible to meet the growing demand and for this we have developed a Circular Technology Licensing model that will enable licensees to produce top quality and environmentally beneficial PET resin and cellulosic pulp at a competitive cost, to compete effectively in the production supply chain.
What amount of textile waste is generated in the UK annually? What amount of this is currently being recycled?
According to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), it has been estimated that out of the 1.13 million tonnes of unwanted clothing thrown out every year in UK, 540,000 tonnes is sent for re-use (around 70 per cent of which is exported overseas) and 160,000 tonnes is recycled.
Around 350,000 tonnes of clothing end up in landfill every year, despite much of it still being wearable and holding commercial value. While 57 per cent of people in the UK say that they recycle their textiles, 41 per cent say they are not aware of recycling or re-use facilities for textiles, such as clothes banks or charity shops.
In addition to clothing waste, there are end markets for non-clothing textiles, such as mattresses and carpets-of which WRAP believes only 20 per cent of the 630,000 tonnes of material that enters the waste stream every year is recycled.
A more inclusive WRAP study into the composition and re-use potential of household bulky textiles found that of all bulky waste in the UK around 19 per cent (310,000 tonnes) consists of textiles.
What does the infinity sign in 'Worn Again' signify?
The infinity symbol represents our continuous, closed-loop process. It aims to convey our company's vision to keep resources in constant circulation, never needing to use virgin resources and creating a world where those resources have infinite use.
Where do you source waste and leftovers from? Do you have tie ups with local waste collection bodies and brands/ retailers?
We are currently at pilot phase, so our need for textile material input is limited in quantity. Nevertheless, ahead of us we have an ambitious industrialisation plan which will require the aggregation of textile feedstock from different stakeholders into our future plants.
We have initiated conversations and collaborations with private textile collectors and charities in Europe to mobilise this industry in sorting end-of-use textiles according to our WA-Feedstock Specification, and potentially becoming feedstock suppliers to our plant operators.
We are also working alongside governments and municipalities to increase textile collection facilities for consumers. We also work with brands and retailers to make sure that fewer end-of-use textiles end up in landfill or incineration in the future, but instead enter into regenerative recycling solutions like ours.
What are the challenges you face in your day-to-day operations?
We manage a lot of complexity in getting a new technology to the world - and to market. Where we can control the science, our development processes and teams work together through a coordinated process to ensure that we maintain our speed to market. Operational issues always come up during the development of a new and disruptive technology. As a growing organisation, we aim to learn from every issue to ensure that delays to our schedule/timeline are minimised and we bring a better solution to market. We also work collaboratively with the market on areas of development where we do not have direct control but aim to provide a solution. Crucial to success is the role of the textile collection and sorting industries to aggregate volumes and to efficiently sort materials according to the WA-Feedstock Specification. Only through close collaboration are we able to provide a solution that fits with industry needs.
This article was first published in the August 2020 edition of the print magazine.
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