Céleste Lilore, Director of Industry Engagement for Textile Exchange, a non-profit organization focused on accelerating sustainability in the Textile Value Chain, made the case for synthetics at the recent Texworld event. To companies looking to make improvements in this volatile and quickly evolving environment, Lilore recommends what she calls a “portfolio approach” which emphasizes the benefits of biosynthetics and recycled plastics as resources.
What are biosynthetics?
A brief historical overview: biosynthetics were used in packaging as early as the 1800s. Chemist Alexander Parks displayed the first manmade plastic in London in 1862, while Henry Ford in 1942 unveiled an automobile prototype made with plastic panels made from hemp and Bakelite. In textiles, biosynthetics might be classified as new but from the 1800s to 1940s, when oil was scarce, Arkema made a lipid-based nylon called Ritsan which is still on the market today. Biosynthetics are comprised of polymers in a chemical reaction in which two or more molecules combine to make larger structures. Nylon, polyester, and Teflon are examples of synthetic polymers, while examples of natural ones are DNA, wool, and silk. One of the virtues of the polymerization process is that it uses drop-in methods which means it uses existing machinery, then it is knit or woven, and manufactured into garments. End-of-life options are landfill, incineration, or it returns back to the chemical stage with post-consumer recycling. Not all biosynthetics are biodegradable, but PLA (Polylactic acid) and PAII (Polyamide) are two that are.