Base Layers Made From Recycled PET Bottles is the title of an article I recently wrote for The GearCaster, an affiliated website to Southern Ascent in the United States. The article featured North Carolina-based Indera Mills, creators of ColdPruf ECO, a range of base layers for colder climate adventures made entirely from waste PET bottles recycled into performance polyester staple fibres.
Indera Mills isn’t alone in their use of recycled polyester. Patagonia, for example, has been making fleeces out of recycled PET bottles for close to 20 years. While Patagonia is usually held up in the Outdoor Industry in the US as a key example of an environmentally-conscious company, Kathmandu in Australia and New Zealand has been doing the same for nearly as long.
According to the Handbook of Plastics Recycling, the largest manufacturer of recycled PET fibre was Wellman, a New Jersey company who produced a staple fibre called Fortrel EcoSpun from 100% recycled PET bottles. They also had facilities in both The Netherlands and Ireland to process and recycle PET bottles into synthetic fibres. Wellman had two main customers in the US for their recycled fibres, Dyersburg and Malden Mills. Malden Mills had already created Polarfleece, Synchilla, and later Polartec, that changed the way the world dressed for colder weather.
In 1993, Dyersburg used the Fortrel EcoSpun fibre from Wellman to make a fabric called E.C.O. Fleece (E.C.O. standing for Environmentally Correct Origins), used by Patagonia in jackets, jumpers, gloves and T-shirts. Lesser known, however, is that Kathmandu, in their production facility in New Zealand, was also buying E.C.O. Fleece for use in making its outdoor apparel for the markets in the Southern Hemisphere. Both Dyersburg and Malden Mills eventually went bankrupt, with Malden Mills reinventing itself as Polartec LLC, one of the world’s leading suppliers of performance synthetic fabrics to the Outdoor Industry.
Kathmandu continues to use recycled synthetics today with a fabric called ecoFLEECE, a durable insulation that is both breathable and quick-drying, and derived from at least 50% recycled plastic waste. Kathmandu’s Surna Hooded Jacket, Stromboli Jacket and Glissade Pullover all contain ecoFLEECE.