Where Does It All Go?

By Karen Bitz McIntyre, Editor | June 2, 2010

Two times a month in our house we drag our recyclables to the curb.

Everything from cardboard cereal boxes to plastic water bottles to junk mail to glass juice jars and beer bottles are picked up, we hope, to be recycled into another life. We do this to keep our garbage output down, to hopefully keep our individual annual garbage contributions under 1500 pounds, which is the average each American reportedly contributes to landfills each year, and to make ourselves feel better about the disposable society we have come to enjoy.

However, our control over lessening the planet’s garbage problem ends with the curb. Once our so-called recyclables are picked up, we have no control over what happens to them. Whether or not they make it to the recycling center is anyone’s guess

Until recently, many would say that recycling efforts were failing because there simply was not enough demand for the recycled goods in the marketplace. Without enough demand, community infrastructures did not lend themselves easily to recycling measures; the cost of recycling often outweighed its benefits. Luckily, this seems to be changing.

As more companies seek the benefits—both environmental and economical—of using post-consumer and post-manufacturing waste more materials are finding their way to recycling centers and ultimately finding new lives.

In the nonwovens industry, the use of recycled fibers seems to be exploding as fiber suppliers are sourcing everything from old blue jeans to water bottles to create new fibers in an effort to trim costs and save the planet.

At April’s IDEA Show, the world’s largest nonwovens producer Freudenberg launched Lutradur Eco, a spunlaid nonwoven made of 100% post-consumer recycled polyester. Meanwhile, Foss Manufacturing reports that most of its needlepunch output is based on its EcoFi fibers, which are also made from recycled polyester bottles.

This month, we spoke to a lot of fiber suppliers for our annual look at the fiber market (see page 32) and we found that interest in using repurposed or recycled materials is absolutely exploding on the raw material level. Cotton Incorporated is partnering to get consumers to return their old jeans to the Gap so they can be turned into insulation; DAK Americas is building a recycling center with Shaw Industries to produce PET flake; and nearly every company contacted had at least one product based on recycled content.

If all this activity in the raw material market is any indication of what the future holds for nonwovens, we will surely be seeing more roll goods, and ultimately finished products, made from recycled content. How great would it be if the diaper your baby is wearing or the wipe you are using to clean your kitchen floor could boast that it was once a water bottle? With all the empty water bottles lying around, it would be a shame not to try.

Karen McIntyre

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