Recycling

What “Going Circular” Means for the Apparel and Textile Industry

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The apparel and footwear industry is forecast to generate double-digit growth to 2020 according to business analysts McKinsey & Co. One of the challenges is reconciling this growth with sustainability initiatives. As this report states it, “Sustainability and rapid business growth are not compatible; to pretend otherwise would be disingenuous.”  The solution proposed is an alternative business model that is based on a closed-loop system.

A circular economy

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation describes the circular economy as being “restorative and regenerative by design, and which aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times, distinguishing between technical and biological cycles.” In striving to achieve greater environmental responsibility, the notion of a circular economy is the latest iteration in creating a blueprint for industry.

In his book, Closing the Loop, Brett Matthews asks whether this laudable aim of infinite recycling is in fact realistic. The report is divided into seven sections and concludes with actionable recommendations and further reading resources. The first section gives an overview of the issue, definitions, and the global and local challenges. The second section considers how these principles are applied largely using interviews with innovative thinkers, manufacturers and brands. The approach provides a clear introduction for readers new to the field, as well as more in-depth information and actionable strategies for those already implementing a sustainable plan.

Textile waste

In the U.S. there are an estimated 25 billion pounds of textile waste generated annually of which just 15 percent is donated or recycled, much of it shipped to African countries. In Uganda, 81 percent of all clothing sold is second hand, according to Dr Andrew Brooks, whose book Clothing Poverty investigates the connection between garment retailers and sub-Saharan poverty.

Recycling alone is clearly not enough. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is one of the initiatives that’s attracting much interest as a way of promoting recycling and end-of-life management. The European Union (EU) has already successfully implemented such schemes for the automotive and packaging industries. Voluntary measures are also not enough, but they do serve an important function with trial initiatives on a small scale, before larger investment is made. Ultimately, legislation is needed at an industry or global level.

Possible processes

Mechanical textile separation has been used with some success for quite a while, but the increase in blends and hybrid textiles, laminates and finishes make this process increasingly difficult. Chemical recycling is now receiving more attention and some funding – in Europe.

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Scale is a key issue in the sustained supply of quantity and quality of material ideally achieved locally to prevent increasing the carbon footprint. Solvay’s Move4earth is a European Union funded project that seeks to recycle airbags using a technology that allows them to separate the technical textile from its coating without any significant loss to the material properties.

The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland have been developing a cellulose dissolution process for recycling cotton that reduces the water footprint by 70 percent and the carbon footprint by up to 50 percent.

In North America, Evrnu use a combination of chemical and mechanical processes to recycle post-consumer cotton garments. The process is designed to prevent off-gassing, reusing solvents and manage the environmental impact in a closed vat system. Importantly for the industry, it works within existing apparel business models.

Recommendations

“Going circular” successfully will require a varied but cohesive approach, and should include these considerations:

  • Whole system solution: The issue has to involve stakeholders at every stage, as textile innovation alone is not enough.
  • Collaboration: This needs to go beyond textile manufacturers and brands to include retailers.
  • Mechanical versus chemical recycling: Partnerships are crucial to achieve scalability and commercial success.
  • Complexity: More research is needed to determine the level of benefit measured against cost of development and implementation.

According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitive Index (GMCI) report the U.S. is set to overtake China as the most competitive manufacturing nation within five years. This brings tremendous opportunity and responsibility for North America to take the lead in developing the principles of a circular economy for the apparel and textile industry. This has to be part of the innovation agenda if it is to be made to work environmentally and economically.

*This story first appeared on Advanced Textiles Source

Upcycling ‘Fast Fashion’ to Reduce Waste and Pollution

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Pollution created by making and dyeing clothes has pitted the fashion industry and environmentalists against each other. Now, the advent of “fast fashion” — trendy clothing affordable enough to be disposable — has strained that relationship even more. But what if we could recycle clothes like we recycle paper, or even upcycle them? Scientists report today new progress toward that goal.

The team will present the work at the 253rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 14,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

“People don’t want to spend much money on textiles anymore, but poor-quality garments don’t last,” Simone Haslinger explains. “A small amount might be recycled as cleaning rags, but the rest ends up in landfills, where it degrades and releases carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. Also, there isn’t much arable land anymore for cotton fields, as we also have to produce food for a growing population.”

All these reasons amount to a big incentive to recycle clothing, and some efforts are already underway, such as take-back programs. But even industry representatives admit in news reports that only a small percentage gets recycled. Other initiatives shred used clothing and incorporate the fibers into carpets or other products. But Haslinger, a doctoral candidate at Aalto University in Finland, notes that this approach isn’t ideal since the carpets will ultimately end up in landfills, too.

A better strategy, says Herbert Sixta, Ph.D., who heads the biorefineries research group at Aalto University, is to upcycle worn-out garments: “We want to not only recycle garments, but we want to really produce the best possible textiles, so that recycled fibers are even better than native fibers.” But achieving this goal isn’t simple. Cotton and other fibers are often blended with polyester in fabrics such as “cotton-polyester blends,” which complicates processing.

Previous research showed that many ionic liquids can dissolve cellulose. But the resulting material couldn’t then be re-used to make new fibers. Then about five years ago, Sixta’s team found an ionic liquid — 1,5-diazabicyclo[4.3.0]non-5-ene acetate — that could dissolve cellulose from wood pulp, producing a material that could be spun into fibers. Later testing showed that these fibers are stronger than commercially available viscose and feel similar to lyocell. Lyocell is also known by the brand name Tencel, which is a fiber favored by eco-conscious designers because it’s made of wood pulp.

Building on this process, the researchers wanted to see if they could apply the same ionic liquid to cotton-polyester blends. In this case, the different properties of polyester and cellulose worked in their favor, Haslinger says. They were able to dissolve the cotton into a cellulose solution without affecting the polyester.

“I could filter the polyester out after the cotton had dissolved,” Haslinger says. “Then it was possible without any more processing steps to spin fibers out of the cellulose solution, which could then be used to make clothes.”

To move their method closer to commercialization, Sixta’s team is testing whether the recovered polyester can also be spun back into usable fibers. In addition, the researchers are working to scale up the whole process and are investigating how to reuse dyes from discarded clothing.

But, Sixta notes, after a certain point, commercializing the process doesn’t just require chemical know-how. “We can handle the science, but we might not know what dye was used, for example, because it’s not labeled,” he says. “You can’t just feed all the material into the same process. Industry and policymakers have to work on the logistics. With all the rubbish piling up, it is in everyone’s best interest to find a solution.”

*This story first appeared on American Chemical Society

Levi’s Dreams Big to Lead Change in the Fashion Industry

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By 2025, the world’s oldest jeans brand will make all of its products from 100 per cent sustainable cotton as part of an ambitious plan to “close the loop” on its supply chain.

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Levi’s plans for 100,000 factory workers to be enrolled in its Worker Well-being programme in 11 countries, representing 60 per cent of its production volume. Image: Levis Strauss

Levi Strauss is dreaming big to close the loop on its manufacturing supply chain, and is looking to revolutionise the apparel sector with ideas that could shakeup the conventional notion of a fashion brand.

By 2025, the world’s oldest jeans brand plans to manufacture all of its products from sustainable cotton.

So in just eight years, the family-run US$4.5 billion firm will use less cotton sourced from cotton fields to make its famous 501s, relying instead on old clothes from people’s closets.

There is just one minor obstacle, though. The technology to turn worn cotton into a quality material that looks like denim hasn’t been invented yet.

But Michael Kobori, the vice president of sustainability at Levi’s, is the optimistic sort. “Anything is possible,” he tells Eco-Business.

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Michael Kobori, vice president, global sustainability, Levi Strauss

Currently, just a fraction of all the cotton Levi’s uses comes from recycled sources, with the rest coming from virgin cotton. To raise the ratio of recycled material will depend on innovations in science.

Recycling cotton involves first chopping up the unwanted clothes. This degrades the quality of the material, so only a limited amount can be used again to make new garments.

Levi’s is working with the technology sector to find a solution, and in May last year announced a venture with Seattle-based tech firm Evrnu to produce the first jeans made from regenerated post-consumer cotton waste.

A prototype was made from five discarded cotton t-shirts, and with 98 per cent less water than virgin cotton products.

Though some virgin cotton was used, Levi’s is claiming it is a breakthrough for a sector that, in the US alone, creates 13.1 million tonnes of textile waste a year, 11 million tonnes of which ends up in landfill.

Recycling old clothes may not be a perfect model for avoiding waste, but Levi’s nevertheless wants to get consumers into the habit.

Levis runs a programme in five major markets – Japan, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany – that gives customers a 15 per cent discount on a new Levi’s item if they donate any old clothes (they don’t have to be Levi’s) to be recycled.

The company is refining the initiative before rolling it out in other markets. “We’re trying to learn what works best for the consumer, and what our competitors are doing,” says Kobori.

Other apparel companies, such as H&M, the Swedish brand that pioneered the throwaway clothing culture known as “fast fashion”, run similar recycling schemes.

“We want to encourage consumers to recycle, but we also want to bring in a programme that is unique and differentiates us,” Kobori notes, adding that Levi’s sustainability initiatives are “open source,” so others can copy them.

The ROI of Healthy Factory Workers

Though it is not something the company shouts about in its advertising campaigns, sustainability has long been a point of difference for the 163 year-old brand.

Levi’s was not only the first apparel company, but the first multinational to introduce a labour code of conduct in 1991, to ensure that the workplace standards and business practices of its suppliers lived up to its own.

“When we developed the programme 25 years ago, it was a breakthrough,” says Kobori. “Before then, companies didn’t really think about the sustainability of their supply chains. It was thought to be the government’s job. Now protecting people’s rights is the bare minimum that companies should be doing.”

A quarter of a century on, as the global cotton industry supply chain has come under greater scrutiny, Levi’s is working to improve the lot of factory workers through its Worker Well-being programme.

The programme began in 2011 with a survey of factory workers in five key production bases, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt and Haiti, to find out how their lives could be improved beyond the basic protection of their rights.

So what do factory workers, most of whom are women who have moved from the countryside to the city to work, want? Access to healthcare and financial services, according to the survey. These services are delivered through Levi’s vendors, with the help of NGOs.

The scheme started out as a pilot with five vendors and is now being expanded to 25 suppliers in 11 countries. This will mean better healthcare and financial support for 100,000 workers behind 60 per cent of the company’s production volume.

“By 2020, 80 per cent of our volume will be made through Worker Wellbeing vendors, and 100 percent by 2025,” says Kobori.

Benefits for workers makes good business sense, but factories often need convincing that the upfront cost is worth it, Kobori says.

“The business case has to be there if we’re asking vendors across the industry to do this,” he explains.

“Skilled workers are an increasingly precious commodity. Workers will move factories depending on who gives the best benefits. So vendors are looking for programmes that will help them reduce turnover and increase productivity,” he says.

Levi’s has been working with Harvard University to evaluate the Worker Well-being programme. Early findings show that for every dollar a vendor invests, they get three dollars backs in reduced turnover and increased productivity.

Beyond the Supply Chain

The supply chain has been the focus of Levi’s sustainability efforts, and the company also aims to expand its Water<Less programme, so that 40 per cent of its products are made using less water by 2020.

Now, it plans to move sustainability beyond the supply chain. “Brand, retail, marketing and operations – all are looking at ways to introduce a more sustainable approach,” says Kobori.

Levi’s is also looking to find business opportunities in sustainability. The company is planning to roll out its Levi’s Tailor Shops concept, where customers can get their old clothing repaired, altered or customised, beyond the United States and Japan.

“It’s not just about making garments last longer, but about opening up a potential new revenue stream for us,” Kobori explains.

Showing the business case for sustainability is key for a company that hasn’t had an easy ride in recent years, as increased competition from rival apparel brands now making denim, and currency fluctuation issues have hurt the bottom line.

But the sustainability function has remained intact despite a business overhaul, and return to revenue growth, led by president and chief executive officer Chip Bergh.

After five years of diligent work to turn around Levi’s economic issues, Levi’s finally saw an increase in revenue and profit. The company boasts three consecutive years of growth, many believe due to Bergh’s leadership.

“Our commitment to sustainability doesn’t change because the currency is fluctuating,” says Kobori, who adds that Levi’s sustainability budget has stayed “relatively constant” in recent years, and new initiatives continue to be added and existing programmes expanded.

Sustainability is key for a brand whose core target group and employee base are millennials – 50 per cent of Levi’s workforce belong to this young demographic, people who reached adulthood early this century. Millennials tends to care more about issues such as sustainably produced cotton, and less about Levi’s long heritage.

“For millennials, heritage may be less important, so brands need to stand for something,” says Kobori.

Sustainability is particularly important for Levi’s now, he says, given the change in government in the American brand’s home country and largest market, and also in key emerging markets such as China where millennials are increasingly discerning of how brands behave.

“Society is looking to the private sector to take the lead on the changes that people want to see in the world,” he says, pointing to an announcement from Bergh in support of the right of workers to migrate to the United States.

“He [Bergh] is not in favour of the travel ban that the [Trump] administration has issued, and employees responded with tremendous positivity to the stance he has taken. They’re looking for us to stand up for what’s right.”

“Sustainability is becoming more important for us,” adds Kobori. “Heritage is our bedrock, it’s who we are. But if we are able to articulate to the consumer that we also stand for the right causes and issues, we become much more contemporary and relevant.”

*This story first appeared on Eco-Business

End of Life vs. End of Use: Circular Economy, Getting More From the Clothes That We Wear

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by Leslie Johnston

About 13 years ago, I was travelling in a beat-up “bakkie” (or, as we Americans call it, pick-up truck) through a dusty, northern Mozambican town. With a bucket on her head and a face lined from years of hardship, an elderly woman walked slowly down the road, quietly going about her business… while wearing a bright red Ohio State sweatshirt, complete with their mascot, Brutus Buckeye! This sweatshirt, probably discarded at one point in a Salvation Army depot in Ohio, found a new owner in the most unlikely place.

And while one can argue the merits of second-hand clothing imports and their effect on African apparel industry, the following conclusion is clear: When we discard our unwanted clothes, they do not go away.

Rather, the “lucky” ones go on to reuse, after being sorted, categorized, packaged, and shipped, often to faraway lands. This fascinating video shows what happens when these discarded duds arrive in India. “Maybe the water is too expensive to wash them,” says one of the sorters, perplexed by the state of the clothing sent by the West.

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Image: Still of the film Unravel, directed by Meghna Gupta

But what happens when a piece of clothing is too worn to be, well, worn again? Has it reached its end of life? Judging by the millions of tons of clothing ending up in landfills across the world, one would think so. But it doesn’t have to be.

Clothes that cannot be worn again can be taken apart. The “easy” way is via mechanical fibre recycling, which entails chopping the clothing into small pieces to create new fibre. But this process weakens the fibre, which still needs to be blended with a high proportion of new (or virgin, in industry speak) fibre. And only a small percentage of total clothing actually goes through this process.

But this process doesn’t work if your old t-shirt is made of blended fibres. And we absolutely love those stretchy, fitted t-shirts, which usually have a bit of elastane. In fact, it is estimated that up to 20% of the world’s clothing is made up of a cotton/polyester mix, which means these fibres cannot be “born again” as new fibre for clothing.

But perhaps not for long. Over the past few years, a number of research institutes and innovators (like Worn Again, Evrnu, re:newcell, Saxion University, Mistra Future Fashion, Deakin University, VTT, Aalto University and Tampere University) have been developing chemical recycling processes that can get more life out of those blended t-shirts. I have had the opportunity to speak with some of these guys to learn more about how such technologies can transform the way we use – and reuse – clothes. As Worn Again states, such technologies can create “Abundance for Everyone. Forever.”

In other words, there is no end of life. Only end of use.

But we’re not there yet. The processes for turning blended clothing into new fibre still need perfecting – and scaling – to help the industry eventually eliminate the concept of waste. So, in the meantime, there are some practical things that we – the customers who love stretchy t-shirts – can do.

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Image: Swishing Party, courtesy of swishing.com

Love our clothes! We can be inspired by the tips from the Love Your Clothes movement, helping us to think about how we buy, use, and pass on our clothing.
For every new piece of clothing we buy, we can gift or swap an old piece… give it to friend, take it to a charity shop, recycling centre, a “take back” scheme, or take it to swishing party.
Pull a Mark Zuckerberg. We should not be afraid to wear the same thing, every day, to work. Apparently, this also helps us to be more successful in our careers.
Check the labels. Until cotton recycling technologies really take off, a blended t-shirt (e.g. cotton and polyester) is harder to recycle than one that is of a single fibre – whether natural or man-made. Let’s go for that 100%.
Tell our friends…and kids. The clothing we love is taking its toll on our earth. At least 350,000 tons of clothing end up in landfills in the U.K. alone. In the US, just 15% of used clothing and textiles are diverted from landfill and incineration. We all have a role to play. Let’s spread the word and bring back our clothes.

And the more that we do that, the more we can give new life to our old clothes.

*This story first appeared on The Huffington Post

Inditex’s Sustainability Investment Reaches €7 Million in 5 Years

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Image Courtesy: inditex.com

Inditex, world’s leading fashion group which operates over 7,000 stores in 88 markets and owns brands like Zara, Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, Oysho, Zara Home and Uterqüe, has invested more than Euro 7 million on sustainability front over the last five years.

The Group has invested in expansion, scaling and modernization of logistics platforms and design centres to boost efficiency and energy saving measures. The start-up of highly-advanced “multi-shuttle” areas at the Bershka platform in Tordera, Barcelona, and at the Arteixo distribution centre (A Coruña) make dispatch time management more efficient and precise and double the speed.

Another area was research and development work focused on store applications for sustainable technology, such as paper saving mobile payments and efficiency technology RFID. Last year, it completed the deployment of RFID technology across its entire Zara store base and has embarked on the process of rolling this technology out in its Massimo Dutti and Uterqüe stores. Other brands like Pull&Bear, with Stradivarius, Bershka and Oysho will follow in 2018. Besides, the number of eco-efficient stores worldwide reached 4,519 in 2016 delivering water savings of 40% and energy savings of 20%.

Furthermore, it also introduced mobile payments in 15 markets in total since it started to roll-out in Spain, the UK, US, Italy and France. Using the online apps of each of Inditex’s eight retail concepts or using a Group app called InWallet facilitate the environmentally responsible replacement of hard-copy receipts with e-receipts. Online orders placed in Spain with any of the Group’s brands have no longer generated hard copy receipts since March 2017 thanks to the e-receipt system named “Paperless”. Zara is also already using this system in the US and the UK.

The Green to Pack project at Zara alone save 22,000 trees and the emission of 1,680 tonnes of carbon every year. In addition to this, it also introduced clothing containers for used-garments in all Zara stores in Spain, Portugal, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland for recycling into new fabrics.

The research and development of more sustainable fabrics is also increasing. Last September Zara launched the second edit ion of its Join Life collection made of Refibra™ fibres. Developed by Austria’s Lenzing Group, Refibra™ fibre are made of pulp from cotton scraps and from sustainably-managed forests.

*This story first appeared on Apparel Resources

The Renewal Workshop helps Apparel Brands Repurpose Textiles

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During their years working inside the apparel industry, Nicole Bassett and Jeff Denby watched masses of perfectly usable textiles stockpile in dumpsters. They were fully aware that this was a national trend. In 2014, more than 16.2 million tons of textile waste was generated, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Of that, 2.6 million tons were recycled or composted, 3.1 million tons were combusted and 10.5 million tons ended up in landfills.

Recycling more of these materials would have the equivalent carbon footprint impact of removing one million cars from roads, which largely motivated Bassett and Denby to launch the Renewal Workshop.

The Cascade Locks, Ore.-based operation helps brands address textile waste. So far the organization, which launched last September, works with five brand partners who send apparel to Renewal’s 7,500-sq.-ft. space.

“We are trying to figure out solutions for warehouse and distribution  centers to deal with returned or damaged products they can’t resell,” Bassett says. “We are refurbishing clothes to put back in the market. But we are also beginning to focus on recycling and upcycling fabrics for other uses once clothes reach the end of their life.”

Filling a Void

Material recovery facilities have difficulties processing textiles and brands have limited resources to dispose of what does not sell or gets returned to them. As a result, textiles, with a recycling rate of 16.2 percent are among the least recovered materials.

The startup is addressing the recovery issue by working within the scope of an organized supply chain.

“Recyclers do not have infrastructure to efficiently collect directly from brands or to process,” Bassett says. “So we created a space to collect and organize materials, based on its value, prioritizing higher value items. This would be renewed apparel that can be resold in its original form.” Renewal cleans, quality reviews, repairs and adds a Renewal Workshop label signifying the clothes are refurbished.

As the company’s volumes increase it will focus on materials that will need more work to be salvaged.

“If something’s too damaged to be sold in its original form but has valuable parts we will move it to an upcycling area where we can make something else out of it,” she says. “Finally, when it’s not salvageable we would put it into our recycling area, where it’s organized by material type, and we will send it to recyclers who will turn it into a new yarn.”

e-commerce Opens Up Business Opportunities

The company sells renewed apparel on an online marketplace.

“What’s exiting is ecommerce has allowed access to used clothes all over the country,” Bassett says. “So I don’t have to hope it shows up in my local thrift store. And customers are comfortable buying online, especially if they know there is a quality control process in place.”

Currently the site is filled with a few thousand items, and brand partners’ shipments come in quarterly. The clothes then go into a large washer. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is used to conserve water. After detergent is added, the CO2 is converted to liquid, enabling the detergent to more easily penetrate fibers. After the cleaning process the liquid is converted back to gas so the clothes don’t have to be dried.

Ibex, an outdoor clothing company in White River Junction, Vt., is among Renewal Workshop’s partners. The manufacturer was already taking back its products from consumers who were done with them and sending what was reusable to charities. If a garment was ruined, the company tried to recycle the garments. But that proved too labor intensive. So material was piling up on the retailer.

“Renewal has provided opportunities to dispose of products properly but, more important, they provide a solution to refurbish, repair and resell products,” says Keith Anderson, vice president of marketing for Ibex. “We appreciate this because … we use fine grades of Marino wool, so there is a lot of value in the fabric and manufacturing.”

Ibex workers must still receive materials and separate what can be refurbished from what cannot.

“What’s different now is we stockpile returns for Renewal, palletize and ship in a consolidated way versus having to store and find outlets for each bucket ourselves. It’s a one-stop solution,” says Anderson.

“We see value in the products returned to us,” he says. “And especially in the days where there’s a focus on a circular economy, we see [Renewal’s model] to be an elegant solution to putting our clothes back into that circular economy.”

*This story first appeared on Waste 360

 

 

Is this a Greener approach to laundry? Ask Hilton and Hyatt

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Xeros’ innovative polymer beads extract dirt from linens and uniforms, using far less water than conventional washing methods.

Federal data estimates that hotels and other hospitality businesses guzzle about 15 percent of the water used commercially (PDF) every year in the United States. The laundries they run to keep guest linens fresh are among the top three consumers — after private and public bathrooms and alongside landscape irrigation.

But an 11-year-old British-born technology firm called Xeros is helping early adopters wring millions of gallons out of water out of their operations — essentially by reverse-engineering and mimicking the fabric-dying process. Xeros machines have been shown to use far less water than conventional high-capacity washing machines — in some cases about a half-gallon per pound of fabric, compared with the more than three gallons per pound that traditional equipment can use, according to the company’s data.

At the Stanford Park Hotel, a boutique property in Northern California with 162 guest rooms, that translated into more than 1 million gallons of water saved in one year. (For those who love numerical comparisons, 1 million gallons is about the same amount needed to fill 20,000 bathtubs.) Other customers, including several Hilton, Hampton Inn and Hyatt locations, also have surpassed that milestone. “Our adoption is starting to come from repeat customers. … That gets you past the new company syndrome,” said Joe Bazzinotti, president of the global commercial laundry operation for Xeros, which makes its U.S. base in Manchester, New Hampshire.

How does the technology work? Xeros uses recyclable polymer beads that, when combined with its detergent, become ionized so that they pull dirt and stains away from the fabric. Rather than filling the entire drum with water, the “extractor” adds it gradually and continually  like the difference between taking a showing and soaking in a bath tub. The dirt is released along with the water into the hotel’s conventional drainage systems, but the beads are captured separately after each cycle, recharged and then reused. The company’s systems currently come in 35-pound and 90-pound models.

“We found that it’s cost-effective, and we’re saving a lot of water,” said Chris Busbin, director of engineering for the Stanford Park Hotel. It has also cut the energy associated with this process in half, because it doesn’t need to heat or cool the water. The property currently uses two machines, which it leases from Xeros along with the detergent and a monthly maintenance visit. Sensors on the systems keep track of how much water each system uses and how many cycles have been run. (Xeros put together an “as-a-service” program to help hotels and other hospitality organizations make the switch.)

“Our sweet spot is definitely hotels,” said Bazzinotti, pointing to installations in the U.S., U.K., Canada and the Caribbean. Another niche market that you’ll see the company more exploit in years to come: industrial laundries and dry-cleaning businesses.

Closing the loop

One thing that the Stanford Park Hotel operations staff examined closely before starting to use Xeros machines about 18 months ago was how often the polymer beads can be used before they must be replaced — and what happens to them afterward. They didn’t want to make progress in water conservation in exchange for releasing harmful substances into the environment. Right now, its beads are recycled quarterly for this particular location, which is a common metric, according to Xeros executives.

David Kaupp, vice president of global marketing for Xeros, said the company uses conventional polymer recycling partners to manage end-of-life beads. “We knew this would be of concern to everyone,” he said. That’s one reason Xeros opted for its model of delivering its machines as a service — so it can better control where the beads wind up.

The company also partnered with chemicals giant BASF back in 2013 to maximize the cleansing properties of its polymer while ensuring they still can be recycled relatively easily.

“On the one side, as a globally active chemical company, we can support Xeros through our global network and the worldwide availability of our materials,” said BASF business development executive Matthias Dietrich when the deal was announced. “On the other side, we can make use of our strong research and development base, which can provide tailor-made plastics with specific combinations of properties.”

While the Xeros executives declined to disclose the company’s total customer count, its financial results published in September (PDF) pegged the total number of machines installed at just under 300. In that same report, the company’s CEO forecasts that Xeros will be installing about 2,000 systems annually by 2020; that could include a licensing deal with a “global OEM.”

It’s also working on adapting its technology for use in leather tanneries, and the financial report also hints at consumer applications.

*This story first appeared on GreenBiz