Editor's Choice Green Award April 2006

Patagonia implements the Common Threads Recycling Program to reuse your old Capilene long underwear tops and bottoms

Patagonia Common Threads Recycling Program

Recycled underwear? It makes more sense than you might think.

Wanted: Your tattered, smelly, nasty old Capilene long johns. Yup, you read that right. Patagonia has developed another eco-friendly recycling initiative, one that turns old underwear into brand-new stuff.

We're not talking about patching holes and washing the stink out. Patagonia is actually breaking down long underwear tops and bottoms into polyester molecules, purifying them, and transforming the raw material into plastic chips that are then melted, spun into thread, and woven into new Capilene garments.

Once the program is fully online, the potential impact will be huge. Patagonia currently makes more than 1.4 million Capilene garments a year, and by September 2006 at least half of the polyester in that line will come from recycled soda bottles, shower curtains, and other waste. By September 2007, every Capilene garment will also contain fibers from recycled underwear. The net result will be a 76 percent energy savings and a 71 percent reduction in greenhouse gases compared to production methods that use only virgin materials.

For every 100 pieces of Capilene that Patagonia recycles, it can make 95 new garments. And the company is already working on the obvious next step: collecting other non-Capilene polyester products (like fleece and other manufacturers' long johns). Stay tuned for more on this later in the year.

Available in dozens of styles ($29-$78), Capilene has been a staple for backpackers since it was introduced in 1985. It's one of the best base layers money can buy–soft, quick to wick and dry, and incredibly durable. And it'll stay that way. "We've been working on using recycled polyester to make new Capilene for 10 years," says Jill Dumain, Patagonia's environmental analysis director. "And we finally have a process that has zero performance impact on our final product."

To participate, drop off your washed Capilene items at the nearest Patagonia store, or mail them to Patagonia Service Center, Common Threads Recycling Program, 8550 White Fir Street, Reno, NV 89523-8939; www.patagonia.com.