A Vancouver-based company, General Recycled, has saved 100,000 flame-resistant (FR) garments from ending up in the landfill. The company recycles FR aramid fabrics, known under brand names such as Nomex, Kevlar and Kermel.
But an unexpected side effect of this planet-friendly initiative is that the recycled fabric offers a greater protection level than the original. General Recycled’s 30 per cent post-consumer recycled blend surpasses CAN/CGSB 155.20 for flash fire protection and NFPA 70E for electrical arc flash protection. During the standard three-second flash fire test, the garments achieved a 7.3 per cent second-degree burn and zero third-degree burn. Up to 40 per cent is allowed under the CGSB standard and a maximum of 50 per cent is allowed for NFPA.
After a four-second test, General Recycled’s garments performed significantly better than a treated cotton, so the company decided to test the garment at five seconds, despite the fact that the testers at the University of Alberta tried to talk them out of it, said Dave Kasper, General Recycled’s vice-president of sales.
“They said, ‘You’re crazy, nobody’s ever done this. You’re going to blow our mannequin.’ But we convinced them to do it,” he said.
The result after a five-second flash fire test was a 21.3 per cent second-degree burn and zero third-degree burn.
“We just blew their minds. That is without question better than anything on the market,” Kasper said, citing as an example the virgin Nomex IIIA, which achieved 43.4 per cent second-degree burn after a four second test.
General Recycled has determined how its fabric offers superior protection, but it’s not sharing that company secret.
The recycling program starts with employers shipping their old and no longer suitable FR workwear to General Recycled. While many might not be aware of it, there is a cost associated with disposing of FR garments — cleaning, handling, bin renting etc. — and General Recycled’s program is often slightly less expensive than a company’s current system, said Kasper.
Next, General Recycled ensures the garments are dry-cleaned, stripped of all zippers and snaps and shredded into a workable fibre. Once the garments are shredded, the recycled fibre is blended with virgin FR fibre, creating a unique inherent flame resistant yarn with a 30 per cent post-consumer recycled blend. The yarn is used to weave a 7-ounce inherent FR fabric, which is provided to manufacturers that will make FR products, such as coveralls, jackets, pants and other workwear. The finished garments are then shipped to the employer. This workwear can be recycled again and again.
Major employers have already gotten on board with General Recycled’s program, such as Imperial Oil, Syncrude, Schlumberger and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft.
Approximately 4,500 tons of FR garments are disposed of every year in Canada, according to calculations by General Recycled. Aramid garments cannot be incinerated due to their chemical structure, so landfill is the only option. The problem, however, is that landfill operators are starting to refuse FR aramid garments because they don’t break down. Proposed federal legislation — the Canada-wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility — would hold all manufacturers accountable for the proper disposal of their hazardous products.
Recycling FR garments solves this potential disposal conundrum for employers, and also helps them with their corporate social responsibility and environmental stewardship — or green — goals.
Garments made with General Recycled’s FR fabric can be purchased through Apparel Solutions in Edmonton.
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2018 issue of COS.