Carbios will knock your socks off, produces first clear plastic bottles from enzymatically recycled textile waste

November 22, 2020 |

Carbios will knock your socks off with their enzyme tech that is now converting textile waste and your old polyester socks and sweaters into clear plastic bottles. We’ve heard of clothing made from plastic bottles like Patagonia’s fleece vests, but now Carbios is making it happen the other way. And with ‘fast fashion’ and record-breaking tons of clothing going into landfills, their tech could help solve a huge global problem.

In today’s Digest, the path to commercialization, the enzymatic depolymerization process that makes the magic happen, why this textiles to plastic bottles tech is so hot, an exclusive Digest interview with Carbios leadership, and more…and it’s ready for you now at The Digest online.

The backstory

The fact that H&M clothing big brand started giving customers a 15% discount on new clothing for bringing in their old, worn clothing tells you something about the fast fashion consequences and the fact that 95% of all textiles have the potential to be reused or recycled, but currently they are recycled at a rate of only 15%. Just look at this chart from the EPA on U.S. textile waste.

 

So the fact that Carbios has produced the first clear plastic bottles from enzymatically recycled textile waste is a huge step forward in helping textiles and fast fashion turn itself around into a more circular industry.

Carbios estimates there are 42 million tons of polyester textiles produced annually in the world, so what they are doing matters and matters big time.

Current mechanical technologies inhibit clothing waste from being recycled efficiently, resulting in excess waste and pollution. Around 85% of all textiles thrown away in the U.S. are either dumped into landfills or burned, and globally, just 12% of the material used for clothing ends up being recycled. Carbios’ process, using highly specific enzymes, allows textile waste to be recovered and converted into a high quality grade of PET plastic, suitable for bottles.

CARBIOS is a company known for pioneering new enzymatic solutions to reinvent the lifecycle of plastic and textile polymers, and now that it has successfully produced the first bottles containing 100% recycled Purified Terephthalic Acid (rPTA) from textile waste that contains a high PET content, we see it becoming an even bigger name.

Carbios is already operating in a growing PET market of $70 billion USD. This latest milestone confirms the capacity of Carbios’ technology to recycle textile waste and opens up access to an additional waste stream of up to 42 million tons per year, worth over $40 billion.

An even better, yes, the bottles they made from textile waste are the exact same quality as the ones produced from virgin PET (petrochemicals).

The path to commercialization

For context, Carbios’ recycling process fully breaks down and recycles PET plastic (e.g. soda bottles, colored plastics, polyester). Its enzymatic depolymerization process, grounded in biology, is a necessary departure from the current standard chemical recycling processes. Carbios’ infinite recycling approach also aligns with many multinational brand owners’ commitments to adopt innovative recycling technologies to meet sustainability goals.

The Company’s path to commercialization is supported by international cosmetic and beverage brands L’Oreal, Nestle, PepsiCo, and Suntory as well as multinational manufacturer Michelin and Novozymes, the world’s largest enzyme producer, to scale up and produce PET-degrading enzymes.

Martin Stephan, the Deputy CEO at Carbios told The Digest in an exclusive interview, “We have partners along the value chain: Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) companies (TechnipFMC), enzyme producer (Novozymes) and brand-owners (L’Oréal, Nestlé Waters, PepsiCo and Suntory Beverage & Food Europe).”

These major outcomes were achieved as part of the CE-PET (Circular Economy PET) research project, of which Carbios is the lead alongside its partner TWB (Toulouse White Biotechnology). This project was financed by ADEME (the French Environment and Energy Management Agency).

“I am very proud that we successfully transformed polyester textile waste into clear bottles, which have identical properties as those made from virgin PET. This major innovation allows us to expand our sources of supply which, until now, consisted primarily of PET plastic waste,” said Professor Alain Marty, Chief Scientific Officer of Carbios.

The technology

Currently, mechanical recycling technologies do not enable clothing waste to be recycled efficiently. The few textiles that can be reused are incorporated into lower quality applications such as padding, insulators or rags. This process is called “downcycling”.

In contrast, the breakthrough developed by Carbios enables polyester  textile fibers to be “upcycled” in a high quality grade of PET suitable for the production of clear bottles.

“This result demonstrates the extent of our technology’s possibilities: We can now produce transparent bottles from polyester textile waste or from post-consumer colored bottles. This works both ways – so we can also make a t-shirt from bottles or disposable food trays,” said Professor Marty. Indeed, Carbios has succeeded in producing PET fibers for textile applications with 100% rPTA, from enzymatically recycled PET plastic waste.

Carbios’ enzymatic recycling technology fully breaks down any kind of post-consumer PET plastic into its original building blocks (i.e., monomers). These can then be used to produce PET plastics that are equal to virgin ones – examples include bottles and packaging.

This is the first biological approach that enables PET plastics to be infinitely recycled, which adheres to circular economy principles. The original enzyme was discovered in nature – and in this form, its thermal stability and PET depolymerization activity were not sufficient. Both properties were highly improved by Carbios and its academic partners.

“Indeed, our process can handle bottle-to-bottle, bottle-to-fiber, fiber-to-bottle and fiber-to-fiber,” said Marty. “Currently, the raw material we’ll be using initially is from post-consumer packaging (bottles, containers, trays). This is not necessarily a better way, but with the textile post-consumer waste streams not fully recognized, it is more immediately actionable. In time, we expect to see both raw material streams performing well.”

Carbios’ process enables low-value waste to be recovered and to have a new life in more challenging applications – in short, it facilitates infinite recycling of PET-based plastics and textiles. This innovative enzymatic waste recycling technology is fully in line with European objectives of creating a circular economy and strengthening environmental protection.

The future

As for what the future holds, Stephan told The Digest, “We plan to license our unique enzymatic recycling process to PET producers by the end of 2022 / beginning of 2023.” So stay tuned to see the magic happen in real life soon.

You can read more about Carbios and the technology at “Carbios Clearing the Bottleneck – Enzymatic recycling tech hits 90% depolymerization in 10 hours” here.

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