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  • Common Threads, Uncommon Fibers

    One of my school days events impressed still on memory is wastepaper gathering. Once a month every student brought a bagful of newspaper, magazines or flyers. The monthly event was obligatory throughout the country so I groaned under the heavy load in my hands on the way to the school. However more books in the school library and new jungle gym in the playground, prepared by the periodic fundraising, erased the toil for the manual paper conveyance. Most of us probably have the experience of barter as a means of getting candies or soda, giving collected bottles or cans. Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet, anyway.

    Roughly speaking, the shocking scene in the documentary "Manufactured Landscape" which Chinese rustics shatter electronic parts to pick out "something", squatting in front of the techno-garbage mountain, is a slice of recycling. Since those printed circuit boards and semiconductors contain valuable elements like rhodium and palladium as well as gold and silver, the extracted precious metals would be reused in our high-tech gadgets and appliances through a series of complex process. [1][2]

    Do you know your tatters are also recyclable, not as industrial rags but as fashionable windbreakers? Patagonia, founded by a rock climber and surfer Yvon Chouinard, made him a successful garments businessman, being popular for its outdoor sportswear. The company is renowned as not only stylish and pragmatic products but also eco-responsible policies so the founder got another title of an environmentalist. Patagonia began using 100% organic cotton in 1996 and launched "new" outerwear made out of recycled PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) in 2005 as "Common Threads Garment Recycling Program". [3][4][5]

    PET, being widely used for beverage bottles, is also a star player material in textile industry thanks to its intrinsic excellent processability and superior physical properties like strength and abrasion resistance. In the PET production, DMT (Dimethyl terephthalate) is synthesized as a precursor and researchers of Patagonia and Teijin, a leading Japanese textile company, found that adding a portion of recycled PET reduced the energy consumption and CO2 release drastically.

    As depicted below, the LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) analysis of the amounts of consumed energy and discharged carbon dioxide in the synthesis process of 62,000 tons of DMT per year was carried out to compare conventional method using virgin petrochemical monomers only to the new technology adopting recycled PET and the results show 84% (72,422 to 11,962 tons of energy) and 77% (4.183 to 0.978 tons of CO2) of reductions were achieved, respectively. [6]

    Adding to the marvelous progress, Patagonia recently kicked off collaborative research “season 2” with Toray, a famous Japanese chemical company, on the advanced synthesis process of Nylon, a traditional performance textile, using recycled materials. They assumed the new technology could suppress the amounts of the two items up to 70%, compared to current method. [7]

    Resources given to us are quite limited and accessible energy is metamorphosed into unavailable forms constantly, quoting the second law of thermodynamics. Faced with the stringent reality, the world expects designers to do "something." Let's start doing. Life is short.

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