At the end of January the Italian premium thread brand, Aurifil, announced a partnership with The Plastic Bank, a social enterprise based in Canada that aims to clean up plastic waste from the ocean while providing work opportunities for people living in poverty. Most weights of Aurifil threads currently come wound on plastic spools.

Aurifil looked into a variety of options to work to reduce their plastic use and overall carbon footprint before deciding to begin working with The Plastic Bank, and sees this initiative as just a first step.

Aurifil and The Plastic Bank

“We’ve been working on finding new material solutions for our spools,” explains Director of Marketing Bradley Mitchell. “We’ve already tested pressed cardboard, but  testing revealed that the material would not stand up to the rigors of our specific manufacturing process.”

Next, they looked into using recycled plastics. “We are in the testing phase, but the biggest hurdle is the question of color. Aurifil is known for its iconic orange spool, representing 50wt thread. Green signifies 40wt, grey is 28wt, red is 12wt. With recycled plastic, we have less control over the color of the source plastic coming in, which leaves us with some challenges and makes it difficult to maintain color consistency. We feel confident that we’ll find the right solution, but know it will take some time. We need to ensure that our product has the same consistent aesthetic, to protect our brand image.”

Aurifil Thread

A third option was to develop a program that allows Aurifil users to return their spools to us to be reused. “We’ve carefully considered this option, but have found that while it would reduce our plastic footprint, it would, in turn, increase our carbon footprint by collecting and flying these back to Italy where 100% of our production is housed,” says Mitchell. “We’d like to find an option that reduces our overall footprint and doesn’t benefit one area at the cost of another.”

The company chose to begin working with The Plastic Bank because it was a solution they could implement immediately while research on more environmentally friendly materials for their spools is still underway. For the partnership Aurifil provided data to The Plastic Bank detailing the amount of plastic used in their annual production, then purchased an equivalent number of Social Plastic® Collection Credits (SPCC). These credits function similarly to carbon credits: 1 SPCC = 1 kg of plastic collected from the oceans and waterways.

The Plastic Bank

Mitchell says the staff at Aurifil first discovered The Plastic Bank through a TED talk by its founder, David Katz. “We were immediately drawn to his passion and loved the company’s overall mission – to reduce plastic waste in our oceans while creating life-saving job opportunities and income for people living in poverty in those highly polluted areas,” says Mitchell. “After watching that first video, we dove into research, began meetings with reps of the Plastic Bank, and took steps to enter into our ongoing partnership. We have great respect for the company and what they do. As an International company (with our primary headquarters in Milan, Italy and a new US headquarters in Chicago, IL), we also appreciate the international scale that the company has – creating positive change across the world.”

Aurifil is continuing to look at ways to become a more environmentally sustainable business. “We will continue to encourage traditional recycling, but understand that comes with restrictions based on location,” says Mitchell. They also suggest creatively repurposed empty spools by donating them to local schools and community organizations for creative education.
In a blog post announcing the initiative with The Plastic Bank, the company stated, “We are incredibly honored and humbled to count ourselves among those influential companies and we are proud to be setting a new standard for sustainability in the quilting and textile industry.”

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