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Technology / Eco-Innovation
Seeking Sustainable Stretch
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LYCRA EcoMade contains 20 pre-consumer spandex waste.
Customer interest and new advances are expanding the range of green elastomers as spandex producers are working to create more sustainable products.
It’s difficult to imagine getting dressed in the morning without putting on something that stretches. Stretch fibers – spandex (elastane) and other elastomeric synthetics – impart comfort and performance to both knitted and woven garments.Persistence Market Research anticipates that the global market for spandex will reach $20.19B U.S. in value by 2033.Sadly, there’s a downside to our love affair with stretch. Most polyurethane-based spandex fibers utilize a toxic solvent in the spinning process. Once spandex fibers have been heat-set in blended fabrics, they are extremely difficult to separate from other fibers for recycling. And like other synthetics, spandex sheds microfibers.“Spandex is a conundrum,” says Simon Whitmarsh-Knight, global sustainability director/textiles for the Hyosung Corporation, makers of CREORA spandex. “Comfort is the most important quality to consumers.”

Spandex producers are working to create more sustainable products, including spandex made from pre-consumer waste, bio-based spandex derived from renewables, and spandex fibers with improved performance and longevity.

Sustainable Stretch Starts with Inputs

The LYCRA Company’s Planet Agenda was initiated in 2008. Its product vision includes using renewable or recycled resources as inputs, and ensuring those products are recyclable at end of life and durable during wear, with de-carbonization a key goal in alignment with Science Based Target initiatives (SBTi) for 2030.

Launched in 2019, LYCRA EcoMade contains 20 percent pre-consumer spandex waste, which is blended with virgin polymer to achieve the same performance as original LYCRA fiber. “The majority of our carbon impact is in ingredients,” explains Jean Hegedus, director of sustainability. However, “Our goal is to make as little waste as possible,” she continues, which limits the scalability of fiber made from pre-consumer waste.LYCRA T400 EcoMade is an updated version of the company’s elasterell-P bicomponent stretch fiber, using bottle-based rPET and bio-derived inputs from dent corn. There are two versions: 50 percent rPET with 18 percent bio-derived inputs; and 60 percent rPET with 15 percent bio-derived inputs.

While LYCRA T400 fiber is a go-to in the stretch denim market, LYCRA FiT400 technology is engineered for knits. It’s an EcoMade product.
Preliminary testing finds it recyclable via glycolysis in fabric blends with standard PET.

“Our goal is to develop a LYCRA fiber that you can easily extract and then re-spin into new fiber. We are working with select recyclers under NDAs,” says Hegedus. The T400 recycled products are certified under the Global Recycled Standard (GRS). The LYCRA fibers are certified under the Recycled Content Standard (RCS).

Fibers with LYCRA lastingFIT technology (aka LYCRA XTRA LIFE) resist damage from sun, heat, chlorine, and industrial laundering. Known for its performance in swimwear, it’s gaining interest in the workwear arena.

The Race to Bio-Based

Bio-based inputs help mitigate the CO2e of spandex fibers. The LYCRA Company is collaborating with Qore LLC, a joint venture of Cargill and HELM AG, to use Qore’s QIRA bio-based 1,4-butanediol (BDO) made from rain-fed dent corn in the next generation of LYCRA spandex.Qore’s new 65 kiloton, 88 percent wind-powered plant in Iowa should be operational in December of 2024, making it possible for LYCRA to produce spandex using 70 percent bio-derived ingredients. A preliminary LCA indicates a 44 percent reduction in the product’s CO2e..“We’re very excited,” says Hegedus. “By early next year hope to convert a third of LYCRA fiber production. The stretch and recovery parameters are equivalent, so the fiber is essentially a drop-in. While the initial product will have 70 percent bio-derived content, our long-term plan is to get as close to 100 percent bio-derived or sustainable content as possible.”

In 2021 Hyosung became the first spandex producer to begin large-scale commercialization of USDA and SGS-certified regen bio-based spandex made with 30 percent renewable resources. The company has plans to offer versions of the product with 70 percent and 98 percent renewable inputs. Hyosung partners with Covation Biomaterials to use their Susterra propanediol (PDO), derived from sustainable corn farming in the United States.

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