Delta Air Lines to recycle 158 tonnes of old uniforms in textile diversion scheme

Delta Air Lines has announced that it will send more than 158 tonnes of its old uniforms to be upcycled or recycled in what it claims will be one of the largest textile diversion schemes by a single US-based corporation.

The programme will see more than one million pieces of Delta’s old uniforms, which were taken out of service earlier this year due to a re-design, sent to upcycling firm Looptworks.

The donations will be sorted by the 900 refugees, disabled workers and military veterans employed by non-profits Relay Resources and the Bobby Dodd Institute -both firms are partnering with Looptworks – to determine which pieces can be donated.

Looptworks will then either upcycle the remaining textiles, incorporating them into new accessories such as laptop bags, travel kits and passport covers, or downcycle them for use in home insulation products, punching bag contents or pet bed stuffing.

As well as old uniforms, the upcycled products, which are due to go on sale in Autumn, will also incorporate leather from disused airplane seats.

“The amount of textile waste generated each year in the US has doubled over the last 20 years, and we won’t add to that number,” said Delta’s director of uniforms, Ekrem Dimbiloglu. “By partnering with Looptworks, we found a creative way to give the old uniforms a new life.”

Closing the loop

Around 15 million tonnes of used textile waste is sent to landfill each year in the US. Delta last year donated its end-of-life uniforms to charity re:loom, where the textiles were upcycled into rugs, cushion covers and keychains.

The airline has also previously partnered with fabric recycling company MartexFibre to downcycle uniforms used for wear testing, incorporating the textiles in insulation and stuffing.

Commenting on Delta’s latest initiative, Looptworks’ chief executive Scott Hamlin said the value of the collaborative project “goes beyond waste diversion and the reuse of upcycled items”, as it also conserves the “significant” amount of water that would be needed to produce virgin textiles for the accessories.

Hamlin also noted that by diverting textiles from landfill, Delta would be preventing its old uniforms from emitting greenhouse gases and leaking dyes into the soil as they decomposed.

Wearing thin

On a broader level, textile waste remains a prominent barrier of the circular economy, with figures from WRAP revealing that more than 350,000 tonnes of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year. 

In a bid to tackle the issue head-on, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation this year launched an industry-wide initiative to drive cradle-to-cradle business models for textiles, with a string of major brands including GAP, H&M and Nike committing to circular fashion pledges as part of the partnership.

Hubbub, which has an overarching goal in place to reduce the £150m worth of clothes wasted every year in the UK, has also made moves to tackle the textile waste mountain.

The charity announced in February that its baby clothing redistribution trial with Mothercare will be expanded nationwide, after more than 20,000 items of clothing were allocated to around 2,000 families last year.

Sarah George

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