Polyester and nylon yarn manufacturer, Unifi opened a new recycling facility in Yadkinville, North Carolina, US in May 2011. The new facility will produce the company’s recycled fibre sold under the brand name Repreve.

Repreve is a recycled fibre which is used in clothes, car interiors and panelling fabrics. It was first launched in 2006 and is used in a range of sustainable products. The new facility will produce the Repreve PC and Repreve Hybrid brands of fibres.

Plans for building the plant were announced in July 2010. Unifi invested $8m in the construction of the 50,000ft² facility. The plant will recycle used polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and polyester waste.

Unifi has incorporated several sustainable features in the construction of the Yadkinville facility. The interiors feature 67 skylights which enable natural sunlight to enter the facility. Sensor technology is used to control the lighting systems to reduce energy use. Low flow fittings and motion sensors have been installed to decrease water use by 34%.

The building materials used during construction were procured locally and include recycled materials. In addition, an energy recovery kit installed at the facility captures and recycles heat produced during the manufacture of the Repreve chip.

“Repreve is a recycled fibre which is used in clothes, car interiors and panelling fabrics.”

The new plant has created new employment opportunities in the region. It will add 25 new jobs when it becomes fully operational.

Process

Recycling of fabric waste includes grounding, shredding and melting of waste fabric. The molten mixture is then transformed into Repreve chip and extruded as the Repreve yarn. The yarn is dyed black using a solution.

Equipment installed

The new facility is equipped with two advanced extruders and material handling equipment. One extrusion line will annually recycle 31 million lbs used PET bottles into the chip. The second line will annually recycle 11 million lbs of used fibre and fabric waste into chip.

Future expansion of the plant will include installation of a new line for recycling of fabrics and garments. The second line will be able to recycle materials such as fabric scraps recovered from sewing and knitting factories, which otherwise end up in landfill.

Benefits

“The molten mixture is then transformed into Repreve chip.”

With the opening of the new plant, Unifi aims to increase the volume of production to ensure economies of scale. It is expected to provide the company with better control of the Repreve fibre supply chain. The plant will enable Unifi to ensure the quality of the recycled chip which is used in the production of the Repreve fibre.

The new plant is also expected to help in improving the quality of the colour of the Repreve fibre. Unifi has improved its recycling technology which is used at the plant to produce whiter and cleaner fibre which is similar to that of virgin fabric.

According to Unifi’s estimates, the facility is expected to help in recycling 400 million used PET bottles in 2012. Unifi has already helped in recycling 247 million used PET bottles in the last two years. Upon commencing full operations, the new facility is expected to recycle 900 million PET bottles. This translates into saving 16 million gallons of gasoline per year.

The plant will also help in reducing the need to produce virgin synthetic fibres. Currently the sales of Repreve fibre are estimated at 15 million lbs per year, where as the virgin fibre sales are very high at 150 million lbs. By expanding the production of Repreve fibre, Unifi aims to reduce this gap and even exceed the production of virgin fibre over the coming years. It is estimated that for every pound of Repreve fibre manufactured, 0.5 gallons of gasoline is saved.

Contractors

Landmark Builders were the general contractors for the construction of the plant.

Future plans

The Yadkinville facility has been built in a modular fashion providing space for future expansion. Unifi is planning to expand the facility in the future to further improve the quality of the Repreve fibre.