27. The Disappearing JacketGet It
As a chemical engineer, Vanessa Mason knows how harmful plastics are. “Put nylon or polyester in the ground, and in 100 years it doesn’t degrade,” she says. It’s on her mind when she’s kayaking or skiing at her family cabin in New York’s Adirondacks, where microplastics have been found. At PrimaLoft, makers of the synthetic insulation in a lot of outerwear you own, her team will reduce that waste with Bio, its new insulation, made with recycled fibers, which degrades in about 18 months. That’s faster than a banana peel.
Mason’s team attached a simple sugar molecule to the chemical structure of polyester, which baits the tiny microbes that live in the ocean and landfills. Five outdoor brands are using Bio in 2020, including Helly Hansen with the Shirt Jacket concept shown here. The insulation is sandwiched between layers of cotton and finished with wood buttons, so the whole thing biodegrades. The technology arrives not a moment too soon: In 2015, the EPA’s most recent record, the textile industry created over 80 pounds of fabric per person—only 15 percent of that was recycled because most of it can’t be.
Mason and her team spent three years perfecting Bio. Part of that was proving it could work in the field and that using a recycled material doesn’t compromise performance. And the industry is catching on: Polartec, another giant fabric manufacturer, has been working with Patagonia and Arc’Teryx to release its version of biodegradable insulation.
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