Company brings circular economy to workwear

A company at the Wilton Centre has joined forces with a major national PPE and workwear supplier to help reduce the amount of polyester clothing that ends up in landfill sites or incinerators, and can instead be recycled back into new products. 

Stuff4Life is in a joint venture with Arco – the UK’s leading safety products, workwear and services company – to produce longer-lasting new polyester workwear made out of high value raw materials extracted from discarded protective clothing and uniforms.

Co-founder John Twitchen said the Wilton Centre was the obvious choice for Stuff4Life because of its knowledge, heritage and proximity to Teesside’s Net Zero industries who he is confident will become customers in the coming years.

The chemistry to break down the polyester workwear was developed with Teesside University and Stuff4Life is working with two other Wilton Centre occupiers: DuPont Teijin Films has carried out the next stage in the process – repolymerisation back into new polyester – and the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) is helping Stuff4Life to scale up its production process.

“This is a stepping stone to a thousand tonne processing facility.  Our goal is to be operating a 50,000-tonne processing facility in Teesside by 2027,” said Mr Twitchen.

Stuff4Life is also benefiting from the support of the Wilton Centre owner Pioneer Group.  It is one of a small group of companies from across Pioneer’s 10 sites chosen to take part in a six-month Scale Up programme.

Claire Morton, Wilton Centre’s Leasing and Assistant Asset Manager, said: “Like other businesses based here, Stuff4Life is making a huge and positive change to the way our society behaves. That will only happen because of its decision to move here, its partnerships with other occupiers and the support provided by Pioneer.”

Stuff4Life is already having an impact.  With Arco, it has helped develop new clothing, manufactured from Global Recycled Standard (GRS) recycled materials.

“If you’re going to make clothing let’s keep it in play for as long as possible”

The Arco Responsible High Visibility range, which was launched earlier this month, can be recycled at the end of its initial useful life through Stuff4Life, and made into high value raw materials that can be used to make new polyester, which is then woven into fabric and made into new garments.

“The Arco Responsible High-Visibility range is also made to last longer.  If you’re going to make clothing let’s keep it in play for as long as possible, because the biggest saving you achieve is not making a replacement item,” said Mr Twitchen who started the business with fellow Environmental Science graduate Dr Miles Watkins.

“For 30 years in our jobs after university we were dressed head-to-toe in hi-vis workwear.  The irony was that the things we relied on to keep us alive were dead when we’d finished with them.  There was no way of recycling them particularly if they were made from polyester.”

Stuff4Life describes itself as a manufacturer not a recycler, producing as good as new feedstock chemicals which – it believes – could provide the foundation of a revival of a UK textile industry.

Each year in the UK 33 million new items of workwear are bought and 16,000 tonnes of used workwear garments are thrown out.

The UK disposes of approximately 330,000 tonnes of textiles, including workwear, per annum.  Whilst everyday clothing can have a new lease of life in the second hand market there is little interest in worn out work clothes.

The impact Stuff4Life could have on this mountain of waste is already being recognised.  Earlier this year it was named Green StartUp of the Year in Northeast, Yorkshire and Humber and Arco’s new Responsible High-Visibility clothing range and Stuff4Life’s recycling solution has been shortlisted in the Recycled Product of the Year category at this year’s MRW National Recycling Awards.