London-based Worn Again Technologies has received a £5m cash injection from a raft of investors, including global fashion giant H&M, to advance its trail-blazing polymer recycling technology, which "cracks the code" on the circularity of raw materials for the textiles and apparel industry.
Worn Again Technologies, which was founded in East London in 2005, is leading the charge to solve part of the world's plastic crisis and the growing problem of textiles being sent to landfill. After more than six years of R&D, its patented dual polymer recycling technology is being brought out of the lab and on to the market.
The process can separate, decontaminate and extract polyester polymers and cellulose (from cotton) from non-reusable textiles, as well as plastic bottles and packaging, to enable them to be fed back into new products as part of a repeatable process.
The innovation not only enables the separation of both polyester and cotton but also produces two end products that are both comparable in quality and have the aim of being competitive in price to virgin resources.
CEO Cyndi Rhoades explained: “There are enough textiles and plastic bottles ‘above ground’ and in circulation today to meet our annual demand for raw materials to make new clothing and textiles. With our dual polymer recycling technology, there will be no need to use virgin oil by-products to make new polyester and the industry will be able to radically decrease the amount of virgin cotton going into clothing by displacing it with new cellulose fibres recaptured from existing clothing.”
At present, less than 1% of non-wearable textiles are turned back into new textiles due to technical and economic limitations of current recycling methods. Worn Again Technologies can reprocess pure and blended cotton and polyester textiles (together representing 80% of all clothing and textiles) meaning its solution offers the potential to increase the recycling of raw materials in textiles exponentially, with no price premium to manufacturers, brands or the consumer.
Cambridge PhD and Worn Again Technologies Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Adam Walker added: “The solution to the world’s plastics problem is not to stop using plastic altogether. We have a solution to address the burgeoning need for recycling non-rewearable textiles and plastics and we’ve been clamouring to get on with it for many years. This investment, combined with the increasing geopolitical awareness of the need for this technology, is enabling us to push through the scale-up and validation work to reach the market on an accelerated timescale.”
Last month, the company was awarded a grant to become the first chemical recycling technology to be Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certified. Angel investor Craig Cohon, previously a senior executive at The Coca-Cola Company and owner of Cirque du Soleil Russia, was quick to see the potential of the technology but said the business had been frustrated in its attempts to bring the technology to market until now.
“For the last few years, fighting against industry inertia and resistance to investing in our solution was incredibly difficult. Everyone in the industry was waiting for someone else to take the lead” said Cohon. “It’s been a challenge but we have now brought together an esteemed group of pioneers who share a likeminded vision for the future.”
Global fashion giant H&M was the "catalyst" for this latest round of investment, which has brought on board new partners including Sulzer Chemtech, one of the world’s largest chemical engineering companies, Mexico based Himes Corporation, a garment manufacturer, Directex, a textiles producer and Miroslava Duma’s Future Tech Lab.
The combined investment and support of the partners will enable the optimisation phase of the technology in the lab as well as industrial trials, scaling and designing of the industrial process with Sulzer Chemtech. These steps will finalise developments to the point at which the technology is complete and ready for commercialisation.
Worn Again Technologies has also partnered with Qvartz, a management consultancy firm with Nordic roots and global reach, to support its direction setting, partnership development and commercialisation model.
The business is currently enlisting local, national and global investors and strategic partners who want to be part of the rapid expansion plan as it prepares for the first industrial demonstration plant to be launched in 2021.
Yesterday sportswear giant adidas revealed it was phasing out the use of virgin polyester in its garments and footwear by 2024. The company said it needed to take a phased approached as recycled polyester was currently 10-20% more expensive than virgin polyester.