Waste2Wear’s approach to building traceability through blockchain

SL Staff

The textile manufacturer has created a blockchain-powered solution to ensure full transparency of its recycled plastic supply chain

2021 World Sustainability Awards Shortlisted Initiative

This example was shortlisted for the Sustainable Supply Chain Award at the 2021 World Sustainability Awards after being reviewed, scored and discussed by a panel of 17 global Chief Sustainability Officers. The judging panel was impressed by the progress being made and felt this initiative was one that should be shared and celebrated.

Challenge

Waste2Wear is a pioneering company in the fashion and textile industry, producing fabrics and products from recycled materials for fashion brands, promotional merchandise, home decor and other industries. The company recycles millions of plastic bottles into sustainable products for multinationals, including Coca-Cola, Mars, L’Oréal and McDonalds.

Plastic pollution is viewed as one on the most pressing environmental challenges globally. The proliferation of plastic products, particularly in countries without effective garbage collection systems, is damaging the environment and wildlife. Production and incineration of plastics also contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

The company’s commitment to recycled plastics heavily reduces its environmental footprint. Recycled fabrics consume 70% less energy, 75% less CO2 and 86% less water than non-recycled polyester. The company also reduces plastic waste ending up in oceans through targeted collection campaigns along coastlines as part of their Ocean fabric collection.

In the textile industry, commitments to recycled plastic have been hindered by suppliers using non-recycled materials during production or outsourcing production to non-compliant facilities. Waste2Wear wanted to ensure that not only the company had full transparency of what was happening in their supply chain, but that customers could have the same level of visibility, to ensure that the materials in its products were genuinely recycled. To that end Waste2Wear devised a digital solution, one leveraging blockchain technology.

Approach

How the solution works

Blockchain technology offers a shared and tamper-proof ledger, providing visibility of interactions and assets within a network. The technology functions with multiple computers connected to the blockchain, each holding a copy of the historical record. Principally associated with cryptocurrency, the implications of blockchain increasingly extend beyond it. For Waste2Wear, the technology allows the company to provide transparency of its supply chain from waste to product.

Waste2Wear’s solution logs each transaction which takes place within the supply chain, using a smart contract hosted on the blockchain. Smart contracts are visible to all parties and cannot be manipulated, ensuring reliability of records. Information stored includes the recycling standards certifications of each supplier involved at each stage of the process.

These efforts are paired with secure packaging to ensure the integrity of materials. This secure packaging involves Smart Seals, which have an embedded QR code and requires a non-duplicable physical key to access. Whilst Waste2Wear has a highly agile supply chain, Fig 1 reflects what this process can look like when working with partners like Waste2Water’s bottle recycling partner in China;

FIG 1: Waste2Wear’s blockchain process

Corporate customers are able to log into their secured account and monitor the progress of production and delivery. This includes when and where plastic was collected, which recycling factory broke it down into pellets and which factory turned the yarn into fabric. Through QR codes provided with production orders, end-customers can also trace the journey their item has made. Waste2Wear also offer the opportunity to offset CO2 emissions from transportation and to provide a detailed environmental report.

These efforts are paired with regular site visits, a commitment to only work with partners that carry industry standard certificates and strong relationships with NGOs.

Outcome

Waste2Wear blockchain has led to a fully transparent supply chain, demonstrating the company’s commitment to dealing with reputable organisations and adherence to strict environmental and social compliance standards. This has helped bring additional business to the company, and built the reputation of Waste2Wear’s suppliers as industry leaders for sustainable production.

The solution has also proven to be a valuable tool for Waste2Wear to identify any issues during production so the company can change and improve going forward. The tracking aspect of the solution means the company is always informed of every step in production so challenges can be dealt with proactively.

Next steps

Waste2Wear have a highly ambitious R&D team, and are looking to expand the scope of their solution. One major initiative is a planned pilot project providing visibility of how returned products are used. The plan is to use a QR code with an extended life, allowing clients who have brought garments back to the store the ability to trace what was done to that garment. That could involve the garment being sold in a second hand store, or being made into animal bedding for example. This commitment to a circular economy is also being extended to the metal which makes up the Smart Seals. Waste2Wear is exploring how they can reuse these seals.

This is part of a broader drive to increase the steps logged onto the blockchain, after a fabric leaves Waste2Wear. 90% of Waste2Wear’s clients buy fabric from the company, and this fabric is verified on the blockchain up to the point that it leaves Waste2Wear’s premises. Waste2Wear are working with clients to examine their factories in order to extend the blockchain to verify steps taken further in production. Whilst such a service includes an additional fee it provides further validation as to the sustainability of production.

Advice to others

An important learning for Waste2Wear is in being agile and reacting to changing environments. The company observed that recycled face masks were a growing opportunity provided by Covid-19, and could allow the Waste2Wear to pivot during a period where many fashion clients were struggling to move stock. Other trends, such as an increase in promotional materials by companies and concerns around the wastefulness of such products, also informed the direction the company is evolving.

Another is that consumers are demanding changes- particularly in areas such as fast fashion. Customers want to see a commitment and are not interested in shortcuts so transparency is important.

Keeping the vision in mind, and treating competition differently is also essential. Orla Govaerts, Communications Manager for Waste2Wear goes as far as to say, “we applaud everyone in the industry, all our competitors- we are happy that they are there. Monique Maissan, our CEO, actually says she hopes we’d be put out of business one day- that there would be no more plastic bottles to recycle”. For Waste2Wear it is essential that the end-goal is kept in mind, “we are here to clean up the environment”.

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