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CiCLO Biodegrades Polyester and Nylon in a Few Years

Polyester and nylon are top contributors.  The two most common clothing fabrics, they are recognized for their durability, high-performance—and for their persistence in the environment. CiCLO fibers, made by Intrinsic Advanced Materials –  a joint venture between Intrinsic Textiles Group and spun yarn supplier Parkdale Advanced Materials — is among evolving technologies aiming to lessen these materials’ plastics pollution load.

Arlene Karidis

February 5, 2024

5 Min Read
CiCLO

Fashion brands and manufacturers are starting to pay attention to microplastics in the form of microfibers from synthetic materials, aware that these tiny fragments release into the environment during clothing manufacturing and laundering. They make their way to wastewater treatment plants where they are too small to be screened. Sometimes they get trapped in sludge used as fertilizer or one way or another ultimately end up on land or in oceans, endangering marine life, wildlife, and potentially impacting human health.

The miniscule textile particles add up: the average household creates about 44 pounds of dust a year and of that over 13 pounds are microplastics from textiles, according to Groningen University researcher Fransien van Dijk.

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Polyester and nylon are top contributors.  The two most common clothing fabrics, they are recognized for their durability, high-performance—and for their persistence in the environment. CiCLO fibers, made by Intrinsic Advanced Materials –  a joint venture between Intrinsic Textiles Group and spun yarn supplier Parkdale Advanced Materials — is among evolving technologies aiming to lessen these materials’ plastics pollution load.

CiCLO is a mix of ingredients that are blended with recycled or virgin polyester and nylon to make pellets sold to fiber and yarn suppliers who in turn sell CiCLO-made material to brands and retailers Third-party testing shows the fiber breaks down at about the same rate as wool, reaching full biodegradation in about three and a half years (dependent on several factors).

The active ingredients in CiCLO enable polyester and nylon to biodegrade in environments where they will have prolonged exposure to moisture and microbes that work to decompose them, explains Andrea Ferris, co-inventor of CiCLO. Lab simulations have vetted its performance in seawater, wastewater treatment plant sludge, soil, and landfill conditions.

Here’s the gist of how the technology works: during melt extrusion, the active ingredients become permanently embedded throughout the fiber matrix, providing nutrients that feed the microbes, allowing them to digest the polymer.

About 60 brands incorporate CiCLO in their lines, with hundreds more in development, according to Ferris. Some adopters are Billabong, Aeropostale, Lucky Brand, Girlfriend Collective, and Junes Bags. On the retail side, Target, Macy’s, Urban Outfitters, and Free People are a few well-knowns that carry CiCLO-branded lines.

But the drop-in technology, which works on factories’ existing equipment and manufacturing processes, is incorporated in more than apparel. It’s found in home textiles, carpets, fiber fill, and other applications.

Ferris and colleague Alan McIntosh started developing the technology in 2012. At the time, she was working for a uniforms and branded merchandise company and managing a large workwear program.

“We were using recycled polyester in a lot of the garments, but we recognized that it was just a start. Almost all fabric sheds tiny fibers during manufacture, use, and care.

“In fact, fibers from synthetic fabrics are the most prevalent form of microplastic pollution around the world. And polyester and nylon, like most plastics, remain indefinitely,” she says.

So began her and McIntosh’s work to develop an ecofriendly polyester, and later, a nylon. Four years into their research and development they had a product that proved to fully biodegrade in long-term lab studies.

From there, a new company was born to brand the technology, originally developed solely for the uniform company, and to scale it and share it with the entire textiles industry.

CiCLO is OEKO-TEX ECO PASSPORT certified as safe for use in sustainable textiles and is traceable along the supply chain.

An estimated 11 million pounds of underwear ends up in the trash every day; it can’t be upcycled or recycled into much of anything but insulation for hygienic reasons. And thrift shops don’t take worn underwear. These end-of-life issues brought intimate garment brand Uwila Warrior to Intrinsic Advanced Materials and to the ultimate decision to launch a collection of briefs, thongs, and camis produced with CiCLO technology.

“We understand that CiCLO is the only solution for nylon that safely degrades in a landfill environment. 

CiCLO really is an industry leader in sustainable solutions for synthetic fibers. There are some other promising solutions on the horizon, such as biobased alternatives, but we haven’t seen them catch up and become industrialized for mass use,” says Lisa Mullan, founder and CEO of Uwila Warrior.

Still, there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer to fashion’s plastic pollution problem. Companies are working to mitigate impact in different ways, from developing new, fiber-to-fiber recycling technologies to building textile reuse models.

Biobased materials such as Mirum (from various plants and minerals), PHA polymer from Mango Materials (derived from methane gas), Kelsun (seaweed fiber), and Savian faux fur (hemp, linen) are some alternatives to conventional polyester or nylon. Though these and other promising innovations are still fairly nascent.

Then there are a few innovators like Xeros that are going other routes. The tech company created a filtration system for industrial and home laundering machines that it says catches most of the hundreds of thousands of fugitive microfibers released in a single wash load. 

“There is endless opportunity to reduce textiles’ footprint, whether filtration technologies or opportunities to bring more sustainable materials to market. And I believe that the textiles industry is only at the beginning of a revolution,” Ferris says.

“We’ve never met with a brand or manufacturer that isn’t striving to do better. It’s now the responsibility of all of us innovators to bring the world alternative materials that are not only better, but affordable and available globally.”

As for Advanced Materials’ future plans, she says the R&D pipeline is deep and the company aims to launch more biodegradable materials later this year.

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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