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WAKEFIELD – In the latest Ecotextile Talks podcast, host Philip Berman speaks with the Lycra Company’s sustainability director Jean Hegedus to learn about how its eponymous stretch fibre can contribute to the textile industry's pursuit of supply chain circularity.

Known for being difficult to extract when separating blended textile waste, Hegedus gives listeners an insight into how elastane fibre could still play an important part in circular textile supply chains if the economics stack up.

She also weighs in on the debate of whether PET bottles should be leveraged amidst the textile industry’s push for circularity, or whether textile-to-textile recycling is a far more suitable alternative. 

 Over recent years, the Lycra Company has placed increasing focus on the sustainability credentials of its performance polyester and elastane materials – which are commonly used in activewear amongst other types of apparel.

This strategy is now coming front and centre in the form of new fibre brands such as Lycra’s own ‘CoolMax Eco-Made.’

“We have our standard CoolMax and that’s made from virgin polyester materials, and then we have two different options under our CoolMax Eco-Made brand,” she said, “We have one that’s made from 100 per cent recycled PET bottles and then a second version that’s made from 100 per cent textile waste.”

To manufacture the latter, the firm is working with manufacturers in the south of China to source waste polyester fabric for reuse and she disclosed to Ecotextile Talks what proportion of recycled polyester fibres currently make up Lycra’s portfolio.

However, she cautions that the supply of raw materials for recycled PET is set to tighten, and there’s a need to move towards new sources of polyester ‘waste’ – in other words, textiles. “We’re certainly seeing that the bottling companies are trying to get back more bottles in order to close their own loop.”

One big problem for textile-to-textile recycling – of course – is separating blended fabrics into their constituent fibres. This is where elastane fibres such as Lycra can be problematic. Hegedus notes that the technology to separate Lycra polymer from textile waste is available, but the economics to do so are not yet in place.

It may be the definition of what waste is, will be part of the solution for Lycra? In other words, are used textiles really a waste product? Or are they a source of raw materials? If it’s the latter, then the economics of separation and recovery of elastane fibres from garments may make more economic sense in future.

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