Industry Case Study
Insights on companies on-the-ground
How Molecular Recycling Can Create Backflows of Recycled Content from the Textile Industry Towards Packaging
In November 2021, Closed Loop Partners released its latest report on molecular recycling, Transitioning to a Circular System for Plastics: Assessing Molecular Recycling Technologies in the United States and Canada. As part of this study, our team released a series of case studies meant to highlight best practices and lessons learned from molecular recycling companies advancing these technologies on-the-ground.
As the demand for high-quality rPET increases, strengthening collaborations and plastic material flows between the apparel and packaging sectors can ensure sufficient supply
Of the 3.75 million metric tons of recycled PET (rPET) packaging produced a year in the U.S. and Canada (1), more than fifty percent of the material is used to create synthetic fibers for polyester textile production (2). However, as polyester textile production continues to grow, there are no commercially available end-of-life solutions that allow for the recycling of these fibers. As a result, the majority of recycled PET, in the form of polyester textiles, will follow a linear path to disposal. In 2017, 85% of textile waste in the U.S.––14.3 million metric tons––was landfilled or incinerated (3, 4)
By 2030, the demand for rPET in North America will be nearly 1.5 million metric tons per year (5); one third of which will be for bottle-grade quality rPET needed by beverage companies to meet their sustainability goals of incorporating post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic content into their packaging (6). If rPET production trends hold, in the next decade there will not be enough rPET produced to meet the demands of the year. This poses a challenge for beverage companies, as well as apparel and textile companies, who have all made commitments to incorporate rPET into their packaging and products and often compete with other sectors for the limited supplies of rPET in the market.
Simultaneously, supply chains for collecting and sourcing textile waste at end-of-life continue to be significantly underdeveloped, even more so than PET bottle recycling systems. This gap emphasizes the need to invest in technologies that can strengthen end-of-life collection for a variety of PET formats, and allow for a greater scope of plastic materials to be kept in circulation and converted into high-quality recycled content.
Founded in 2011, France-based Carbios is the only depolymerization company that utilizes a biological process based on enzymes to recycle polyester fibers in textiles into bottle-grade PET. This creates a new circular pathway for polyester textiles, not only closing the loop for synthetic fibers, but also strengthening the flow of recycled materials between the beverage and apparel sectors. Recycling polyester textiles at end-of-use can significantly bolster rPET supply, helping both the beverage and apparel industries meet growing demand for recycled plastics.
In addition to processing textiles into high-quality monomers for bottles and fibers, Carbios can also take a range of other PET-based plastics, such as colored, opaque and multilayer laminates. By converting those waste streams into high-quality outputs that can then be used to create virgin-like plastics and textiles, Carbios can help piece together a solution that could potentially support the recycling and circular flow of PET-based plastics and polyester fabrics.
Between 2011 and 2020, the company developed its enzymatic PET recycling technology to convert a range of PET-based plastics into PET pellets. In November 2020, it reached its newest technological milestone, successfully demonstrating the conversion of polyester textile waste into recycled Purified Terephthalic Acid (rPTA), a monomer used in PET production, which was then used to manufacture clear plastic bottles (7).
To advance their solution, and prove the viability of using their technology for packaging in the market, Carbios works closely with leading cosmetics and beverage companies. In 2017, Carbios and L’Oréal co-founded a consortium to industrialize Carbios’ molecular recycling technology. In 2019, Nestlé Waters, PepsiCo and Suntory Beverage & Food Europe joined the Consortium, expanding reach to the beverage industry. By working together to industrialize Carbios’ technology, the Consortium’s partners aim to increase the availability of high-quality recycled plastics in the market.
As a result of the Consortium, each partner company has successfully manufactured sample bottles based on Carbios’ enzymatic PET recycling technology. These bottles have been created for some of their leading products including: Biotherm®, Perrier®, Pepsi Max® and Orangina®. In 2021, Carbios’ consortium unveiled its first branded bottles––a culmination of nearly 10 years of research and development to optimize an enzyme that naturally occurs in compost heaps and normally breaks down leaf membranes of dead plants, to break down any kind of PET plastic and turn it back into virgin-quality plastic.
In addition to partnering with leading consumer goods companies, Carbios has also formed partnerships with experts in the bio-based solutions space. In 2020, they signed an exclusive co-development agreement with Novozymes, the world leader in enzyme production. Since 2017, Carbios has also partnered with Technip Energies, a world leader in engineering in the areas of energy, chemistry and bio-sourced industries to advance the industrial development of Carbios’ PET enzymatic recycling process.
At a time when the world’s largest consumer goods and apparel brands have made commitments to incorporate recycled plastic content into their packaging and products, early-stage and promising solution providers like Carbios are well positioned to help address two challenges: the shortage of high quality rPET in the market and the overabundance of polyester textile waste without sustainable end-of-life solutions.
Call to Action
The demand for high-quality recycled plastic packaging and recycled synthetic fibers by brands and retailers is driving global interest and investment in molecular recycling technologies, like Carbios, which are uniquely positioned to process both PET thermoforms and synthetic textiles.
The plastics recycling system will need to move beyond bottle-to-bottle recycling to meet public commitments for recycled plastic content, circularity and sustainability goals. Stakeholders that are looking to increase their access to rPET are best-positioned long-term if they work together to scale solutions that enable circulation of PET across multiple sectors. To achieve this, apparel brands and retailers need to deepen their collaboration and strengthen their flow of resources to close the loop on PET. Collecting clothing and other industrial waste (i.e. carpet, polybags), not only closes the loop on millions of metric tons of materials that today end up in landfill, but also has the potential to change the unit economics of molecular recycling technologies that can process diverse PET feedstock.
Integrating molecular recycling technologies into the current recycling infrastructure and bridge the gap between the supply and demand of high quality recycled plastics will require investment into the collections and sortation infrastructure. Cross-sector collaboration is essential to ensure that these systems are developed in ways that address the complexity and diversity of plastics, including polyester textiles.
 IHS Markit 2018
 Wood McKinsey Data
 “White Paper: Textile Recovery in the U.S. – Recycle.com.” Recycle.com, 29 June 2020, recycle.com/white-paper-textile-recovery-in-the-us/. Accessed 10 Mar. 2021.https://recycle.com/white-paper-textile-recovery-in-the-us/
 Values taken from US rPET file