Published On: Thu, Jul 28th, 2011

Unifi Inc. expands Repreve recycling program

Unifi Inc. is taking the next step with its Repreve recycling initiative by launching Wednesday a

“textile take-back” program.

The goal for the Greensboro yarn manufacturer is getting fabric scraps from textile manufacturers and using them in the Repreve recycled fibers process.

It also plans to recycle 100 percent polyester consumer apparel still containing salvageable fabrics within two years.

Introduced in 2006, Repreve has been a major sales and branding factor in Unifi’s stunning financial turnaround of the past three years. It returned to profitability in 2010 after 10 years in textile-manufacturing limbo.

In May, Unifi opened an $8 million Repreve recycling center on its Yadkinville complex, running two extrusion lines around the clock at the 50,000-square-foot facility.

The center is aimed at meeting the growing demand from apparel manufacturers and retailers for the Repreve line. The center led to the creation of 25 jobs, expanding Unifi’s workforce in Yadkinville to about 970.

At full production, the center expects to convert about 42 million pounds of recycled products a year — 31 million pounds of post-consumer plastic bottles and 11 million pounds of post-industrial fiber and fabric waste — into chips for use in Repreve polyester yarns.

Roger Berrier, president and chief operating officer for Unifi, said the take-back initiative provides the industry with a responsible and sustainable outlet” for supply chain waste, while expanding the growth and reach of the Repreve brand.”

Four major apparel customers — Eddie Bauer, North Face, Patagonia and Polartec — sell outdoor and sportswear featuring Repreve. Walmart, Haggar, Sears and Cintas are working with Unifi on Repreve apparel programs.

Unifi is partnering with Polartec in the take-back initiative. Polartec already has an exclusive brand — Repreve 100, made 100 percent from recycled bottles to use in its outdoor performance apparel. That blend will soon feature recycled fabric.

“Polartec has pioneered the recycled fabric category, and we continue our commitment to reducing our overall footprint,” said Andy Vecchione, president and chief executive of Polartec. “In 2011, over 40 percent of our total production will utilize Repreve 100 recycled yarns, and we expect that number to grow in 2012 and beyond.”

Unifi said it expects to attract other apparel companies with the take-back program.

Unifi gets the bulk of its recycled material from suppliers that buy bottles from municipalities and waste companies. Aggregators handle some of the cleaning and preparation.

It is exploring the possibility for gathering worn consumer apparel through collection centers, potentially at recycling centers. “As long as it is 100 percent polyester, and buttons, zippers and other non-polyester are removed, we can recycle it,” Berrier said.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in selling sustainable apparel is customers being willing to pay extra.

Berrier said as the center helps make more recycled yarn available, the cost of Repreve will decrease because of economies of scale.


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