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The Company Starting to Break Down Fashion’s Waste Problem

Circ, a one-time paper pulp manufacturer, has a process to recycle the polyester-cotton blends currently filling up landfills into new clothes.

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Illustration: Panayiotis Terzis for Bloomberg Green
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It started with an offhand request. Entrepreneurs Peter Majeranowski and Conor Hartman were testing a way to recycle the fibrous stalks left over from tobacco farming, using hydrothermal pressure to turn them into pulp for paper, when a Swedish commodities trading company called up with another idea. “They were like, ‘Hey, this pulp stuff you’re doing is great, but can you try putting a t-shirt through your machine?’” Majeranowski recalled. 

They obliged, and as luck would have it, it worked. Most importantly, it worked on polyester-cotton blends, the most common textile produced by the global fashion industry. Until recently, any recycling process that preserved the polyester polymers would degrade the cotton fibers, and vice versa. This has led to a major buildup in fabric waste. Every second, a garbage truck’s worth of clothing and textiles gets incinerated or tossed in a landfill, according to a 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.