For centuries, cotton textile waste was recycled to make paper. Today, there is more textile waste than ever. Strong, yet soft, these cotton fibers make beautiful paper. Mohawk Renewal Recycled Cotton uses two sources for its cotton fiber: white t-shirt trim and blue denim thread.
At the Cheney Pulp and Paper Company in Franklin. Ohio, returning to the roots of American papermaking isn't new. It's been the business model since 1924, when Howard Cheney purchased and retrofitted a grain mill to make pulp out of cotton rag, a fabric industry waste product. Four generations later, with Cheney's great-grandson Mark Snyder at the helm, the company's work is newly relevant, thanks to a manufacturing partnership with Mohawk.
Recycled Cotton pulp from Cheney is used to make Mohawk Renewal T-Shirt White and Denim papers, giving cotton textile waste a second life. Made from t-shirt and denim scrap diverted from the millions of textile waste sent to landfills every year, these pulps remain unbleached and require no dye in the papermaking process.
"A lot of companies make generic, bland, commodity paper," says Cheney. "This Renewal paper will be unique, with a look and feel almost like cloth, with rich color, and a sense of permanence."
These new products also breathe new life into a process that was once a centerpiece of the nation's pulp and papermaking industry. Though it's niche now, cotton textile-based paper was widely prevalent; national governments around the world still use it for banknotes and currency, including U.S. dollars. The Mohawk and Cheney collaboration has found a different way to turn cotton textile waste into something of great value.
Creating paper from cotton starts with scraps, specifically textile waste from large clothing manufacturers. Fashion trends often dictate what kind of scraps may be common, Cheney says, but finding bits of denim and T-Shirt isn't difficult. The material arrives in 1,000 pound bales of two-by-three inch clippings, which staffers sort by hand to weed out synthetics making sure everything used is 100 percent cotton. Then, using a combination of heat, water, and time, those scraps are transformed into pulp which becomes paper.
"This whole process reinforces positive social behavior," says Cheney. "We're taking pressure off forests and landfills by reusing waste to make something new with it." Making this sustainable pulp for the new Mohawk Renewal range of papers has also helped the bottom line of this family business and its 40 employees, bolstering American industry.
With the rise in fast fashion, there's more cotton waste being generated than ever before. Between 1999 and 2009, the global volume of textile trash rose by 40 percent, discards which take 200 years or more to decompose and release methane as they sit in landfills. But turning scraps into fine paper with a purpose, and benefit for the planet, is a business model that won't go out of style.