We use mechanical recycling on fabrics that can maintain quality after shredding and yarn production.
Mechanical recycling of natural fibers, particularly wool, started out of necessity during World War I. As the yarn quality improved, mainstream clothing companies began using the technology, which involves physically shredding postindustrial or postconsumer fabrics and respinning them into yarn.
Mechanical recycling is used on fibers that can either maintain quality after shredding or producing the yarn, or on raw materials that can maintain their color. For example, plastic bottles can often be shredded mechanically, melted and spun into a polyester yarn while maintaining quality and increasing value. But mechanical recycling can go downhill in the quality department for materials such as cotton, where the individual fiber length is shortened through shredding and the new yarn is usually of lesser quality. This problem is often solved by adding polyester to the recycled cotton to increase the strength and quality of the yarn.
Mechanical recycling can and should be employed when the source material used is pure enough that contaminants won’t jeopardize the performance or quality of the end product. Patagonia has been able to use mechanical melting of plastic PET bottles for synthetic fibers, because there is a clean source of postconsumer bottles that results in a high-quality recycled finished product.
We use mechanically recycled materials where possible. Fiber degradation in natural products, such as wool and cotton, limits the application of mechanical recycling, but this limitation does not apply to all synthetic materials. A great example of how we use mechanical recycling is the Responsibili-Tee® T-shirt, which is made from 50% postindustrial cotton scraps that have been gathered from factory floors, sorted by color, mechanically shredded and respun into yarn, combined with 50% postconsumer recycled polyester for durability and strength.
Our goal is to use only what we determine to be responsible virgin fibers or recycled fibers. This objective reinforces our broader goals of reducing the impact of our raw materials on the planet and using more regenerative and nonpetroleum-based materials.