A new venture, Stuff4Life Workwear, has been set up to develop a recycling process for polyester to reduce the amount of workwear going to landfill.

It has been created by Hull-based safety wear and equipment specialist Arco jointly with Stuff4Life, a start-up which is developing its own patent-pending chemical recycling process towards full-scale commercialisation.

Based on Teesside, Stuff4Life Workwear aims to create a circular supply chain for polyester, reducing the amount of unwanted workwear going to landfill as well as carbon emissions related to raw materials used in their production.

The joint venture builds on a relationship with Teesside University and its Net Zero Industry Innovation Centre as well as the Centre for Process Innovation at Wilton, part of the UK Government’s High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

Arco, which previously supplied seed funding for Stuff4Life, will continue to re-design its product range for longevity and circularity, taking responsibility for its “own-label” garments – before, during and after their useful life – and introducing end-of-life schemes for workwear, hazard wear and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Stuff4Life Workwear’s solution works by recovering the base polyester components from recycled polyester-based garments, including complex workwear and PPE.

The recovered components can be used in place of virgin raw materials in the manufacture of new polyester which reduces the impact of manufacture, a key element in the transition to a circular economy.

Successfully recycling polyester and establishing an onshore UK supply chain will reduce the industry’s dependency on fossil fuels. It will also reduce pollution from the manufacturing process since recycled polyester uses significantly less energy and fewer resources compared to virgin polyester manufacture.

At present, nearly 90% of the 33 million workwear items supplied each year end up in landfill or are incinerated.

Thomas Martin, chairman of Arco, said: “By enabling recycled polyester to be produced on a larger scale, more companies can kit their employees out in more environmentally friendly clothing, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and decreasing our impact on the environment whilst keeping people safe.

“We know that this solution works and now is the time to scale the operation up and support the building of a circular workwear economy in the UK, ensuring we protect more people as well as the planet.”

John Twitchen, director of Stuff4Life, added: “Our ultimate goal remains the same – to make new polyester products from old polyester products – but also making the next generation of workwear last even longer, perform even better and be more recyclable when its job is done.

“This is the true value of our partnership, making a real difference throughout the design cycle and the lifecycle of products and delivering not just a circular economy for critical materials, but decarbonising industrial processes and delivering even better outcomes along the way.”