This process turns leftover fabrics, plastic bottles and other materials into high-quality, durable yarn.
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 this technology, which involves physically shredding postindustrial or postconsumer materials and re-spinning them into yarn.
Mechanical recycling shreds scrap waste, used garments, plastic bottles and materials from other waste streams into new yarns. Most importantly, these materials have to maintain their integrity and quality even after the shredding process. Plastic bottles, for example, can be shredded mechanically, melted and spun into a polyester yarn that upholds its performance while also increasing its value.
But not every material is a contender for mechanical recycling. During the shredding process, cotton fibers are shortened and quality is greatly reduced. This problem is often solved by combining polyester with recycled cotton to increase the strength and durability of the yarn.
Mechanical recycling can and should be employed when the source material used is pure enough that the final product can meet our high standards for performance. For example, 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.
Where We Are
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 is our 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 re-spun into yarn, combined with 50% postconsumer recycled polyester for durability and strength.
We’ve set a goal to only use preferred materials—organic and Regenerative Organic cotton, recycled polyester and recycled nylon, among others—in our products by 2025. This objective reinforces our broader goals of reducing the impact of our raw materials on the planet and using more regenerative and non-petroleum-based materials.