A Recycled Bottle Blend for Jeans

Levi's Waste<Less range weaves an average of eight recycled bottles into each pair of jeans.

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Levi’s® WasteLess™ collection

Levi’s® WasteLess™ collection

By Lizzie Rivera at Green Futures

Jeans made from plastic bottles are set to be part of Levi’s 2013 collection, as big fashion labels continue their commitment to sustainable design.

The 400,000 products in Levi’s Waste<Less collection use at least 20% recycled content per garment – or an average of eight bottles. That’s 3.5 million recycled plastic bottles in total. The clothing company collects PET plastics through municipal recycling programmes. These are then sorted by colour, crushed into flakes and made into polyester, which is blended with cotton and other fibres to be woven into yarn. Kirby says that Levi’s recycled designs don’t sacrifice quality or style. In fact, he explains, the colour of the bottles adds a “beautiful undertone” to the denim.

The Waste<Less collection is just a small start, if you consider that Levi’s produced 29 million pairs of jeans for its Water<Less line in 2011. The design for this line reduced the amount of water used to finish a pair of jeans – usually 42 litres – by an average of 28%.

“Our life cycle assessment shows that cotton is one of the biggest sources of environmental impact in our products, and as such we’re always looking for alternative sustainable fibres”, says Jonathan Kirby, Levi’s Vice President of Global Men’s Design. It’s also better for their bottom line. Levi’s 2011 annual report shows that, despite an 8% increase in net revenue, higher cotton prices had a detrimental impact on their net income – which, at $336 million, was $45 million lower than the previous year.

Sarah Ditty, Deputy Editor of Source Intelligence, believes the reasons companies are using recycled materials is four-fold, driven by media scrutiny and consumer demands, as well as by cost and scarcity resources.

“Big companies know they have to be inventive and innovative to survive, but their supply chains are so complex it takes a lot of time and money to implement new systems”, she says. “It’s slow moving and a long journey, but we’re on the right tracks.”

At the 2012 Olympic Games, Adidas used recycled polyester as the main material for the uniforms of 70,000 volunteers, while the shoes in Timberland’s Earthkeepers range include fibres from PET bottles and 42% recycled rubber soles. The line, introduced in 2007, is expected to represent 75% of Timberland’s footwear in 2013.

Recycled fibres are nearly identical to those made from non-recycled fibre in terms of strength, softness, shrinkage-resistance, and colour-fastness, according to Foss Manufacturing who make Eco-fi, a polyester made from recycled plastic. As such, Levi’s, Adidas and Timberland are far from the only big names in the fashion world looking to incorporate recycled materials into their designs.

This article originally appeared on Green Futures, the leading magazine on environmental solutions and sustainable futures published by Forum for the Future.