Team Members: Rita Bardon, Shayan Barlas, Min Kim
Project Description: Our planet is dying. Twenty-one billion pounds of textile waste ends up in landfills each year in the U.S. alone, and HanesBrands products are in ninety percent of U.S. households. Our team partnered with HanesBrands, Inc. on a sustainability project to develop a way to reduce pre-industrial waste from being incinerated or thrown into landfills. We benchmarked recycling processes in other industries and recognized the most beneficial thing for Hanes would be to create a closed loop recycling process, where pre-industrial waste can be re-used in Hanes’ products.
With the help of HanesBrands’ sustainability experts, we identified two of Hanes most commonly used fabrics for t-shirts; a 100% cotton jersey and a jersey with a 50/50 cotton-poly blend. The team picked shredding ahead of chemical breakdown and unravelling and used the Nonwovens Institute’s in-house shredder to break the fabric down to fiber form. They ran tests on the shredded cotton fabric and decided to ring spin it with 50% virgin cotton fibers to produce yarn. Our team also assessed the environmental impact of the recycling process by comparing data on our recycled fabric to the life cycle data of a generic cotton t-shirt. To achieve this comparison, we switched out the generic cotton fabric in the life cycle with their recycled fabric. We also assisted Hanesbrands in identifying ways to market the project as a sustainability story. Because the recycled yarn would be coarser than the typical yarn used for a cotton t-shirt, they decided that their yarn would fit best in a sweatshirt product in a brand such as Champion.
Overall, we learned a lot about the effort required to carry a project through from start to finish. The project provided a valuable insight into the industry, from cross-team collaboration to why things are done the way they are. Fabric recycling still has a long way to go in terms of viability due to concerns regarding prices and fabric strength. The biggest takeaway from this project was that thorough planning of ideas and possible technical challenges can go a long way in how smoothly a project continues.