Levi Strauss Weaves Recycled Plastic Into New Jeans

If you buy jeans from Levi Strauss’s new collection, you’ll be wearing a combination of recycled plastic water bottles and food trays.

Each Levi’s® WasteTM product will have a minimum of 20% post-consumer recycled content, or, on average, eight, 12- 20-ounce bottles per jean. About 3.5 million recycled bottles will be incorporated into the jean line. 

The PET plastic waste is being sourced from municipalities across the US – including brown beer bottles, green soda bottles, clear water bottles and black food trays.

The waste items are sorted by color, crushed into flakes and then made into a polyester fiber. The material is then blended with cotton and woven with traditional cotton yarn. The color of the bottles is unaltered, contributing a unique undertone to the denim.

“From the beginning, we have designed our products with purpose and intent. By adding value to waste, we hope to change the way people think about recycling, ultimately incentivizing them to do more of it,” says James Curleigh, global president of the Levi’s brand. “This collection proves that you don’t have to sacrifice quality, comfort or style to give an end a new beginning.”

The jeans will be part of the Spring 2013 collection and will be sold in the US and Europe for women, and around the world for  men. They include Levi’s 511T Skinny jeans, Levi’s 504 Straight Fit jean, Levi’s Trucker jacket and Levi’s Boyfriend Skinny jeans.

The initiative follows that of WaterTM – a finishing technique that reduces water use as much as 96%. The company saved over 360 million liters of water this year using the process.

The company has also blended "better cotton" into five million jeans, in partnership with the Better Cotton Initiative, which helps farmers use less water and pesticides.

Besides leading on production methods, the company’s forest policy ensures it isn’t buying wood and paper products from companies engaged in rainforest destruction in Indonesia.

Levi also joined 19 other progressive companies in a letter to Congress asking for extension of the US wind production tax credit.

Last year, Levi Strauss ranked highest among jeans brands for environmental and social performance.

After Levi’s was listed as one of the brands whose Chinese suppliers were linked with environmnental contamination, it proactively addressed the issue. They examined pollution records of companies in their supply chain and pushed 200 textile and leather vendors to clean up their act. They are now extending that to dyeing and finishing suppliers, along with  Adidas, Nike, and H&M.

Five Chinese non-profits released a report, Sustainable Apparel’s Critical Blind Spot, which documents the environmental footprint of major clothing brands manufacturing in China. A previous report documented cases of large-scale pollution in 47 of 49 brands. Only Esquel and Burberry had clean supply chains.

Levi is among 17 brands that reacted proactively, including H&M, Nike, Adidas, Walmart and Gap. Among the brands that didn’t respond: J.C. Penney, Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Marks & Spencer – which plans to be the world’s most sustainable retailer – and Disney, which just announced a far-reaching paper sourcing policy for its supply chain.

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