Recycled Sweatshirts: Financial and Environmental Improvements
Managers at PlayBack Clothing were interested in a study that would show that their sweatshirts made from regenerated fibers are more environmentally friendly than a conventional sweatshirt.
When the pieces of a conventional sweatshirt are cut out of a rectangular section of fabric, a lot of waste fabric is generated. Normally this fabric is sent to the landfill, but PlayBack collects the waste, grinds it into fibers, spins these fibers into new yarn, and makes sweatshirts out of them. Sweatshirts made by PlayBack are constructed from 60% of this ‘regenerated’ cotton fiber, and 40% polyester.
To our surprise, our initial analysis showed that PlayBack sweatshirts were not more environmentally friendly than a conventional sweatshirt because of the massive transportation distances involved in making the products out of cotton transported from Eastern Europe. PlayBack listened to our advice, and decided to change its manufacturing process to incorporate some American-produced fabric scraps.
Eastern European-sourced cotton scraps have a longer fiber length than American cotton, which is important because the fibers get broken up in the grinding process. The sweatshirt couldn’t be made of 100% American cotton, because the fibers would be too short to spin properly. A blend of European and American cotton, however, provided benefits of both sources: higher quality European cotton, and reduced transportation impacts associated with American cotton. The new sweatshirts are more environmentally friendly than a conventional sweatshirt, and are cheaper to produce.
For more information on PlayBack and the LCA project, see their website.