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Akshay Sethi has a vision: he wants to revolutionize the fashion industry by creating a sustainable fiber that can be reused forever. And that ambition is part of a bigger plan: to do the same for all plastics.
His company Moral Fiber has developed a three-step chemical process that extracts polyester from a mix of materials and creates a new yarn, considered the world's first textile product made entirely from old clothing. The technology that makes this transformation possible can be transported in a small shipping container, which facilitates its overcrowding.
At the moment the process is in a test phase in a pilot plant located in Los Angeles, but next year Sethi intends to send his invention to countries with a growing middle class, and high levels of consumption and waste, so that they can recycle clothes and also produce reusable threads.
The path of Sethi and his chemistry partner Moby Ahmed has been a long one and has gone through several phases of trial and error since they both began exploring ways to recover polyester - the most common fabric in mass-produced clothing - while studying at the University of California. in Davis. Later, in 2015, they founded Ambercycle (now Moral Fiber), where they began working with microbes to break down polyester.
“We started with a microbial process, but when you are trying new things, you discover new things. In that way, we find this chemical process that is made up of three very elegant steps, ”said Sethi.
“We take a mixed material containing cotton and polyester, and extract the latter at the molecular level to produce a new yarn, he explained.
Surplus material is incinerated to supply power to the pilot plant, but the box containing the equipment could be powered by solar panels mounted on the roof. The process requires approximately 45 to 50 amps of power at its maximum draw point.
Sethia assures that this technology is capable of extracting polyester from any mixed material and may be suitable for recycling other plastics.
"We started with the fabrics, but this could process containers, bottles, containers, films and packaging with multiple layers." Sethi said.
The company has funding from major players in the fashion industry, as well as traditional investors. Until now, MoralFiber has quietly worked to fine-tune its technology before it goes public.
The Los Angeles plant processes around 100 kilos of clothing from local stores every day, but the team is looking at how to increase production and plans to launch a collection with a major brand next year.
Sethic believes that Moral Fiber is one more weapon in the battle against plastic pollution that affects the oceans. He wants to work to keep polyester out of the sea and also stop the leakage of microfibers that break off textiles and enter rivers in the oceans.
"What we have seen is that we can produce a polyester fiber that does not disintegrate, now it is only a matter of applying it to a greater extent. (...) It is not possible that we have materials that enter the oceans and decompose into polluting microfibers", he adds.
Through the Clean Seas campaign, UN Environment urges governments, businesses and consumers to reduce the use of single-use plastics in order to conserve the oceans and protect their biodiversity for future generations. Microplastics, which are produced when plastics begin to disintegrate, are a serious problem. Some estimates indicate that at least 51 trillion of these particles (500 times more than the stars in our galaxy) litter our seas.
As part of its campaign, UN Environment encourages inventors, designers and researchers to seek ways to overcome our addiction to plastic. Innovative solutions to tackle plastic pollution and other environmental crises will be at the center of the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly, to be held next March. The theme of the meeting is Think of the Planet. Live Simple.
Sethivives under this mantra and recognizes that his innovation must be able to compete with materials made with by-products of fossil fuels.
“It is a firm belief of mine… Innovation has to be competitive with oil, and if it is not, it is not sustainable. The cornerstone of our process was that we could compete in the same fossil fuel economy, ”he said.
Another challenge he faces is dealing effectively with the multiple players in the textile and apparel business, although Sethi is supported by Fabric of Change, a global initiative that supports innovators for a fair and just fashion industry. sustainable, and Ashoka, the largest network of leading socially motivated entrepreneurs.
In November, Moral Fiber joined the Fashion for Good scale program, which will support the company for 18 months and offer it unique opportunities to network with manufacturers, brands and investors.
For Sethi, a key factor in his quest has been to recognize that fast fashion is unsustainable, especially with a growing middle class in emerging economies. Given the expected increase in demand for clothing, Moral Fiber aims to offer a sustainable solution, suitable for a circular economy.
"All clothing made with Miral Fiber can be infinitely recycled." “When it comes to the life cycles of a product, we must go back to the infinite. It is the only way ”.