Going the distance with fuel from old clothes

JAPAN • Mr Michihiko Iwamoto worked for a textile trading house that produced work clothes with threads made from PET bottles.

This gave him the idea that one could "circulate everything" by returning all used items to their original state and putting them into new products to sell.

Ten years later, he co-founded Japan Environment Planning and began to tackle recycling in earnest in 1995.

At that time, he met Ms Masaki Takao, who was convinced that ethanol could be produced from cotton, one of the major raw materials in clothing. Thus the idea behind Jeplan was born.

The textile and clothing industry is one of the world's most intensive economic activities, but only a very small percentage of used clothing is recycled.

Jeplan plans to change that by placing collection boxes at retail outlets for used clothing, which is then sent to the firm's factories where cotton is reborn as ethanol and used as an energy source.

It was not easy to convince retailers to agree to this venture, but after two years, the company got Muji on board. Now, 70 retailers have collection boxes in their stores (or have agreed to do so).

Jeplan is not only processing products for recycling but also developing new products, such as an umbrella with replaceable plastic components.

Inspired by the movie series Back To The Future - in which a car that runs on garbage transports passengers from 1985 to 2015 - Mr Iwamoto negotiated with Hollywood firms and succeeded in conducting a joint project with NBC Universal.

He bought a DeLorean car like the one in the movie series and, on Oct 21, 2015 - the destination date featured in one of the films - held an event to drive it on ethanol made from T-shirts.

People could climb into the car for pictures if they donated old T-shirts for fuel.

The event was so successful that he collected in less than three months the number of T-shirts usually collected in an entire year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Going the distance with fuel from old clothes'. Print Edition | Subscribe