A few people standing up in a stadium raising their hands in the air doesn’t create a movement. But when everyone in the stadium follows them, it’s an unstoppable wave.
That’s what happened with Cotton Incorporated’s Blue Jeans Go Green program. And in this case, its main objective was spurred by another kind of big wave in 2005. That big wave? Katrina. Knowing denim could be turned into a non-woven material, Cotton Incorporated saw an opportunity and worked with partners to turn it into building insulation to help rebuild after the storm.
How the Program Works
Speaking during a recent Cotton Companion podcast, Andrea Samber, Director of Brand Partnerships for Cotton Incorporated, explains that Cotton Incorporated collects the old denim and turns it over to its manufacturing partner, Bonded Logic, located in Arizona.
“They handle the removal of the hardware, turning the denim into insulating material,” she says. “This non-woven has various uses. And for years, one of the top uses has been building insulation. [Denim] has been collected under the Blue Jeans Go Green denim recycling program for the purpose of becoming something new, staying out of landfills, and then given back to us to distribute to various Habitat for Humanity affiliates around the country.”
The initiative has spread from Los Angeles to Washington, DC, up to Michigan, and in so many areas of the country.
“We’ve had other organizations, like buildings that benefit the community in Los Angeles, the Wallace Annabelle Performing Arts center, and a sustainable living center at the University of Georgia, Tipton campus. As those [buildings were] being erected, they would apply or reach out to us for granted insulation,” Samber explains.
“We’ve been able to give to fire stations, sustainable living centers, performing arts centers, and museums,” Samber says. “We have collected more than 4.5 million pieces of denim, which has been able to create well over 8 million square feet of insulation. So, from a building installation standpoint, over the years, we’ve given to a variety of Habitats and buildings hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of square feet of insulation.”
Today, you also can find recycled denim in these other applications:
- industrial mattresses
- pet bedding inserts
- the interior of dishwashers for sound deadening
- thermal packaging for meal delivery services
- insulation for pharmaceuticals that need to be temperature controlled
“It’s a commitment to cotton sustainability, and I think everybody has an affinity for jeans,” Samber says. “Cotton Incorporated’s lifestyle monitor research tells us the average American has six pair of jeans in their closet and more than 10 pieces of denim – other things besides jeans. And everybody’s got a personal relationship with their pair.”
Cotton is that iconic fabric that, when it has served its purpose in one form, can easily be given new life.
“People feel good about it, and brands like American Eagle Outfitters, Made Well, and Pac Sun want to be involved,” Samber says.
Partnering with the U.K.
In June of 2022, Cotton Incorporated worked with Cotton Council International to launch a recycling program in the U.K. called Cotton Lives On, which has the ability to take more than just denim.
“Cotton Lives On collects old cotton textiles and turns them into an insulating type of non-woven used to make a roll mat,” Samber explains.
“We launched this program, piloted it last June, and we’ve seen brands and retail get involved,” she says. “It’s not designed to be super consumer facing at the moment, but we’re excited to see a lot of interest there. And as we look to the future, we will continue to look at expanding the recycling program and really just try to continue to make a difference.”