Posted on Collectively.
Don’t throw away that old sweater/dress/tie-dye T-shirt from Khao San Road – just feed it to hungry little microbes and give ‘fast fashion’ the boot
It sounds like ethical sci-fi, but that’s exactly what Akshay Sethi and Moby Ahmed are proposing. Their company, Ambercycle, is making recycling more profitable and efficient, thanks to plastic-munching microbes that break down polyester clothing to its basic substances, ready to make 100 per cent renewed polyester that’s just as good as brand new stuff.
After chowing down on our old threads, the hungry little organisms produce raw chemicals for fresh polyester, starting the production process anew. Today’s plastics are produced from crude oil derivatives, meaning that their manufacture is at least partly influenced by the price of oil, and is also subject to the economic, political and environmental ramifications of oil extraction. Ambercycle proposes that this process is stripped back and simplified; using entirely recycled materials means there’s no need to extract more crude oil, ensuring more cost-effective and environmentally friendly production.
Catchily dubbed the ‘polyester digester,’ the microbe eats PET, or polyethylene terephthalate – the most common type of polyester, used to create anything from clothing to carpets to water bottles to building materials to automotive components. The ravenous microbes can still get their snack on even if the polyester is combined with other materials, like in a cotton-polyester-blend shirt.
Unsurprisingly – given the vast potential benefits at stake – the fashion industry has jumped on it. Ambercycle won €250,000 in the Global Change Award, a challenge led by fashion giant H&M’s Conscious Foundation.
In UK alone, 9,513 garments are put into landfill every five minutes
With ‘fast fashion’ still a big problem (consider the fact that in UK alone, 9,513 garments are put into landfill every five minutes) and the global population increasing, it seems that the market for new clothes will keep growing for the time being – though, let’s also remember that there are efforts to halt the throwaway tide, from people like Livia Firth and the crew behind DFYnorm.
Perhaps, then, the focus should be on changing the lifecycle of our products, instead of expecting fundamental changes in how we approach clothing. As a representative from the H&M Conscious Foundation puts it: “To close the loop is a way of letting people live at a standard they aspire to, but without the impact on the environment.”
Right now, the biological method behind these magnificent microbes is at test tube stage, as it were, with proof of concept and a focus on scaling the processes. The aim is for production to be underway by late 2017.
Ambercycle’s long-term vision of enabling all fabrics to be made from 100 percent renewable chemicals is ambitious – but it’s also admirable, and who’s to say it’s not achievable, too? The company’s innovation certainly seems like it has the potential to radically transform the fashion industry and close that damned loop in the process.