Polyester is a durable, wrinkle-resistant and easy-care material that is ideal for many home furnishing products like rugs, pillows, quilts and cushions. The downside to virgin polyester is that it is made from oil, coal or natural gas. This means that when we use virgin polyester, we are exhausting the planet’s natural resources. Our response to this, is to replace all virgin polyester with recycled in our products. In 2020, we achieved the milestone of replacing 79% of the virgin polyester used in IKEA textile products and will accelerate the transformation towards the aim of only using recycled polyester throughout the product range where polyester is used.
When springtime comes and it’s time to put the cushions out for the outdoor furniture, they don’t always look like you remember them. The color may have faded and the fabric might look a little worn after having withstood the sun’s strong UV rays, rain, wind, dust, and dirt. It’s a completely natural process, but that doesn’t mean that we have to accept it. At IKEA, we embrace such everyday challenges and look for new materials, alternative manufacturing methods and more efficient tests. When we set out to make FRÖSÖN cushion covers, we chose to use polyester made from recycled PET bottles and to use a relatively new dyeing technique, which turned out to have more reliable quality and better environmental durability than conventional dyeing.
Anton Löfstedt, who works with textiles at IKEA, explains that the technique is used to dye synthetic fibers such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon. "With this technique, we add the color pigment in the material before the fiber is manufactured. In this way, the pigment becomes part of the fiber and it becomes more colorfast compared with traditional dyeing where the pigment just ends up on the surface of the finished fiber." By dyeing and manufacturing the fiber at the same time, and skipping a step in the production, it’s also more environmentally friendly. The water consumption is about 80% lower compared to traditional dyeing, while the amount of color pigment can be reduced by 20%. These are important figures which show how a new technique can make a big difference. "Today, a growing proportion of all polyester in our range is dyed in this way," says Anton.
To test the durability of the dyed polyester, we put it out in the sun. Over seven months, some cushions were placed on the terrace of our office in Sydney where the sun is strong and the humidity is high. At the same time, we sent a number of cushions to a family in Saudi Arabia where they withstood both sun and sand storms. Catarina Vannfält is a chemical engineer and has studied the results. "Understandably, they were slightly spotted when we got them back, but after one washing, the covers were fresh again and their color looked really good", says Catarina. So with recycled materials and a dyeing technique that consumes less water and color, FRÖSÖN is one step further towards reducing our environmental impact ‒ and the positive effect continues in your own home. "With a better dyeing technique, that slows down the sun’s bleaching effect on the fabric, and a removable cover that you can wash, the cushions keep looking great for a long time.", summarizes Catarina.
Originally, all polyester was made from oil-based raw materials which are not renewable but we are switching to only using recycled polyester. The good thing is that polyester can be recycled over and over, without negatively affecting the quality of our products. When we make products from recycled polyester, we give a second life to material that is not biodegradable and reduce the amount that may otherwise end up in landfill or the ocean. Instead, PET and other sources of polyester are used to make textiles, storage boxes, kitchen fronts and even lamps. Recycled polyester is just as good as virgin polyester in terms of looks, quality and function, and produces about 50% less in CO2 emissions. And the material is just as clean and safe in every way.
Recycled polyester makes us less dependent on oil. The amount we convert, is equal to the amount of virgin fossil fuel we eliminate from our polyester raw material (this excludes potential dyeing and other post recycled polyester production treatments). With some exceptions, the challenge is not the conversion of polyester into recycled itself, but to make it available to everyone by keeping it affordable. Buying low environmental impact products often comes with a higher price tag. We want to change that by working to make recycled polyester products more affordable and accessible to the many people.
IKEA is committed to end the dependency on virgin fossil materials and only use renewable or recycled materials by 2030. We are accelerating this movement for polyester in our range and aim to replace all virgin polyester in our textile products with recycled. In 2020, IKEA replaced 79% of the virgin polyester used in IKEA textile products with recycled polyester. In volume, this means we converted 130,000 metric tonnes of recycled polyester, and saved 200,000 tonnes of virign polyester. We haven’t reached our 100% goal yet, but we have come far and overcome many obstacles on the way. These volumes make us a leader in converting to recycled polyester and we hope that our decisions can inspire and motivate whole industries to change.
At IKEA, we demand that all recycled polyester used in IKEA products shall come from recyclers that are compliant with the Global Recycled Standard and traceability is secured to the IKEA product through requirements toward the IKEA Suppliers. By only using recycled polyester that meets the Global Recycled Standards we manage to secure social, environmental and chemical practices at the recycler’s production. We believe that the GRS standard is the best standard on the market today. We work with our partners and textile organizations such as Textile Exchange to further improve standards on recycled materials, including traceability of material beyond the recycling units.