Article published at: Oct 30, 2023
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The story of K-rPET —Korean Recycled PET (Polyethylene terephthalate, also known as polyester) begins in 2018, when China's ban on plastic waste imports disrupted the global waste management chain, and created a waste crisis in South Korea—witnessing a dramatic surge in plastic use, without municipal plastic recycling infrastructure in place. This crisis drove innovation, making environmental responsibility not optional but necessary for businesses.

In response, BlackYak —Nau’s parent company— collaborated with the Korean government to pioneer innovative PET recycling in the country. By partnering with synthetic fiber manufacturer TK Chemical and local governments, they established a cooperative system to collect transparent PET bottles and create products from them. They also collaborated with water bottle companies to create transparent bottles, which are crucial for recycling into drink bottles or polyester thread. PET bottles and polyester share the same material, allowing bottles to be transformed into thread. These flakes are then processed into uniform chips, and synthetic fiber manufacturers turn them into thread for functional apparel.

The initiative began in 2020 when BlackYak became the first company in Korea to manufacture functional apparel using Korean recycled PET (K-rPET), a fiber sourced from PET bottles collected within the country.

In fact—BlackYak's Winter 2023 collection is almost all made using K-rPET. The recycled polyester styles are sturdy, soft, lightweight, and dry easily — the ultimate for comfort outdoors.

This collaborative effort aims to reduce reliance on imported discarded plastic, fostering a sustainable resource circulation system. Recycling PET bottles in lieu of using raw petroleum materials results in a remarkable 65% reduction in carbon emissions and a 70% decrease in energy consumption during production.

The emphasis on waste reduction and recycling has already led to a significant drop in daily household waste generation and a recycling rate of 60%.

As South Korea strives to reduce plastic waste and increase recycling, it aims to reduce waste by 50% and recycle 70% of plastic waste by 2030. While challenges remain, including limitations on further recycling of plastic bottle-based garments, South Korea's progress in recycling and sustainability serves as an inspiring example of how innovative solutions and dedicated efforts can transform a nation's waste management practices. The journey towards a greener, more sustainable future continues, with businesses like BlackYak leading the way.

Sources: The New York TimesThe Korea HeraldGreen Future Index 2022

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