The fashion industry’s latest endorsement—plastic-eating enzymes. These enzymes essentially break down the plastic in old textiles and make them viable for repurposing and reusing. The apparel industry accounts for almost 92 million tons of annual textile waste, with millions of those products holding toxic chemicals, plastic, microplastics, and other harmful toxins that will leach into the land during degradation. Close to 70% of the materials used in classic clothing items such as yoga pants, skirts, pants, and so many others contain the toxic materials of nylon, polyester, and acrylic. As of right now, the fashion industry has two main options when it comes to repurposing clothing—either mechanical recycling or chemical recycling. Both are effective, but both are not sustainable, healthy, or 100% sufficient in repurposing.
Mechanical recycling is the process in which plastics are recovered through processes such as washing, drying, or grinding, but the collected plastics need to be mixed with untouched plastics in order to create a quality piece. Therefore, multiple times of recycling are not an option. The chemical recycling process uses high levels of energy and high amounts of solvents in order to split the materials for plastic recovery. Now, transitioning over to a more sustainable method and process, the use of enzymes have developed a new way of recycling garments. The enzymatic process uses less heat, and only requires the original items to transform them into virgin-quality materials.
"Our process can handle hard-to-recycle plastics, contaminated plastics, mixed plastics and plastics containing additives (like colors) again and again, and now textiles in a low-heat environment that is carbon neutral. This means we already have enough plastic in the world to never need more and can produce virgin-quality plastics without the environmental trade-off," stated Co-Founder and CEO of Samsara Eco, Paul Riley.
There are about 391 million metric tons of plastic waste produced every year, Samsara Eco has developed a process that hopes to recycle 1.5 million metric tons of that plastic waste. It may not seem that large of a chunk or impact, but to the areas that host the waste, any relievement is beyond helpful. Samsara Eco, an Australia-based start up, has accepted investments from major clothing companies, such as Lululemon, to provide these recycling services and develop clothes from the enzymatic process. S. Eco is one of the three startups that have been diving into and advertising this form of recycling. Carbios, a French start up, is developing a similar recycling approach and has confirmed collaborations with Puma, Patagonia, PVH, and Salomon. The last startup is Protein Evolution, a newly year-old Connecticut-based company that has caught the attention of UK designer Stella McCartney, in talks to turn leftover nylon and polyester into new materials.