With a sub-theme of sustainability, EXPO 2020 has been positioned as a landmark in Dubai’s sustainable development, promising a “zero waste” economy by 2030. To make this a reality, two creative recycling entrepreneurs have joined forces to create a market for materials currently being disposed off in landfills. We spoke to DGrade CEO, Kris Barber.
CLOSED LOOP & DGRADE
Plastic, as convenient as it may be, is causing a crisis. Invented in the 1960’s as a reusable and recyclable material, plastic is nowadays cheaper to manufacture than it is to reuse. More than 45,000 tons of plastic are thrown into the oceans every year, killing as many as 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals; and more than 90 percent of plastic ever created is still in existence today.
These statistics were provided by DGrade, a UK and Dubai-based company developing eco-friendly clothing and accessories from recycled PET. They, along with Closed Loop, are playing their part to create a ‘zero waste’ UAE economy by 2030.
Closed Loop takes discarded bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high density polyethylene (HDPE), and recycles them back into food-grade plastic. The resulting rPET and rHDPE is then used to make new bottles and food packaging. Their facility in Dagenham, is capable of recycling 35,000 tons of bottles each year.
The organization’s approach to resource recovery and waste management is based on the principle of controlling material inputs to maximize recycling and recovery of materials, therefore minimizing waste to landfill whilst reducing the environmental footprint. Based on extremely high usage of PET per capita in Dubai, Closed Loop’s partner, DGrade, extract PET from the private sector, and assist with creating a local market and infrastructure for it.
DGrade has successfully run recovery programs for the past three years in the UAE for PET drinking bottles, such as The Plastic Challenge (engaging with 30 regional primary and secondary schools), where plastic collected can be reprocessed back into the production of school uniforms. DGrade use this process to manufacture finished garments for major retailers through brand licensing agreements, and have plans to build the world’s first vertically integrated production plant from bottle to yarn using local raw material. The facility will be based in Masdar City.
Masdar, along with big brands like Nike and Coca Cola, have used DGrade fabrics, because they recognize the merits in using recycled materials. However, in the past the quality has always been an issue for DGrade when comparing performance of recycled fabrics against conventional fabrics, as would be expected in a competitive, fast market.
“Having pioneered some of the advances in technical development of certain fabrics, we are proud to offer quality that is comparable, if not better than regular polyester which can be blended with other fibers to make all types of clothing and accessories,” Kris explained. “We have over 150 fabrics we have sampled, some with technical attributes including dri- fit and water/wind-proof qualities.”
The company has successfully sampled and produced for many major worldwide brands, but until recently prices have been 10-20 percent higher than regular fabric due to the lengthy production process. By constructing the world’s first vertical manufacturing plant, DGrade aims to reduce costs so that they can compete against virgin polyester, and welcome investors who may be interested in joining them and sharing their vision.