It’s a simple task, tossing that plastic water bottle into a recycle bin. The number of bottles quickly grows though and not only results in a cleaner environment, but those bottles can become something beautiful to wear as well.
Unifi recently announced that its REPREVE division, which makes a textile yarn product from recycled plastic bottles, had hit the 10 billion bottle mark, with a goal of recycling 20 billion bottles by 2020.
Kaye Flippin, spinning plant manager at Unifi, said that there are plastic pellets the equivalent of 56 million plastic bottles at any given time in the two large silos outside the Yadkinville facility.
“It’s amazing,” she said. Flippin has worked at Unifi for many years, but she still gets a thrill out of the fact that the yarn she helps to produce is now made from recycled plastic bottles.
Spinning Site Manager Dennis Joyner is another employee who is amazed daily at the new products made using REPREVE . He recalled shopping at Belk and another shopper commented on his love for a certain brand of men’s slacks. Little did he know that he was talking to one of the people responsible for making the yarn that was used to produce the pants.
“There’s a lot of pride in that,” Joyner said. “I played a role in that guy’s enjoyment and sense of pride that he has when he puts that garment on.”
Barry Shore, operations manager, shared a similar story. He said he enjoys watching other customers take notice of labels that indicate the recycled material REPREVE was used in producing a garment.
Joyner said recycling wasn’t an everyday topic of conversation when he was growing up, but it is for his children. He said he now takes great pride in seeing them learn about sustainable environmental practices and making the choice to toss those plastic bottles into the recycling bin, rather than the trash.
In 2012, Unifi took a big step towards sustainability by moving to recycling nearly every bit of waste at the plant and becoming landfill free. Shore said that 98 percent of the waste at the Yadkinville plant is recyclable in some way. The two percent that cannot be recycled is eliminated by way of an incinerator.
In addition to making the world a better place through sustainable environmental practices, recycling bottles also results in jobs. According to the Carolina Plastics Recycling Association, 3,500 people are directly employed in the Carolinas as a result of recycled bottles. Unifi’s REPREVE plant in Yadkinville alone employs 1,100 people.
Unifi also is making an impression with young people by offering educational tours to area schools where students can learn more about how the REPREVE product is made.
Brian Borger, recycling center plant manager, said the students are impressed when it’s put into terms of brand names. Students are able to see the process at the plant that went into making the yarn used to create the North Face jacket they are wearing.
“You see it really click for them,” Borger said.
The brands using REPREVE yarn represent a wide range and is continually growing. North Face was one of the first to begin using REPREVE. Target’s Cat and Jack kids clothing line, Patagonia, Under Armour, Gildan, New Balance, and Nike are just a few of the others that use REPREVE.
This year Unifi began honoring the brands using REPREVE by presenting companies with its Champions of Sustainability awards. J.C. Penney is just one of the companies recently honored as a Champion of Sustainability.
The company is making great strides in so many areas and most of all bringing a sense of pride for a product that begins right here in Yadkin County.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.