Trash to cash | Sunday Observer

Trash to cash

15 December, 2019

Seven billion of the world’s population annually produce 300 billion PET (polyethene terephthalate) bottles and eventually dump 80 per cent of it into the environment. And Sri Lanka with a mere 22 million population is the world’s fifth largest sea polluter with its plastic disposal to the ocean. ‘International Business Times’, a US-based website reported a few years ago that Sri Lanka dumps 1.6 metric tons of plastic and polythene annually to the Indian Ocean.

Nalaka Senavirathne a young entrepreneur, who has been closely watching the lackadaisical attitude of the citizenry towards the environment, has come up with a sustainable solution after a great deal of research. Senavirathne, who graduated from the University of Colombo with a degree in Chemistry is now Managing Director of ‘RIZER’, a brand dedicated to garments made with recycled plastic bottles.

On December 7, he launched ‘RIZER’ at Uptown in Liberty Plaza, Colombo 3. The evening was indeed remarkable as it was not another opening of a fashion franchise, but a long overdue eye-opener for his countrymen.

Senavirathne, who studied at Panadura Sri Sumangala College and later at Royal College Colombo, had strived towards an environmentally friendly lifestyle since his school days.

“I remember an older student coming to our class and explaining as to how he was inspired by the cleanliness and the discipline of the Japanese” he recalled. Senaviratne believes it gave him the initial spark of inspiration to be environmentally conscious.

After graduation, he had joined MAS Holdings where he gained immense knowledge about fabrics. Later, he had joined a US company called ‘Unifi’, which is considered the world’s largest plastic bottle recycling outfit.

However, Senavirathne had continued his studies even after he found the best of jobs which matched well with his long term passion; conserving the environment. He finished a couple of postgraduate diplomas and finally completed his Masters in Business Administration, acquiring the know how to run a business.

The result of his striving RIZER was born about four years ago with small scale production aiming at foreign buyers in Italy and Australia.

Production process

“After collecting plastic bottles we convert them to bottle flakes. Then, the next step is the polymer chip. We create the yarn using that polymer chip” Senavirathne explained the production process.

In a nutshell, he converts plastic water bottles into 100 per cent polyester yarn in three steps. According to the need of the final garment, this yarn is blended with other materials such as cotton.What is significant where Senavirathne’s product is concerned is his possession of a universally accepted certification which authenticates that the products are made of recycled. material.

“If someone asked to prove the fact that this is a recycled product, there is a particular DNA in this yarn which helps to recognise the final product as a recycled product. The ‘UTrust certificate’ I have, is a credential for that” he explained.

In spite of the high cost of producing recycled yarn compared to ordinary, virgin yarn, Senavirathne pointed out that the environmental benefit of using a recycled yarn should be considered before anything.

“A plastic bottle we throw away takes 1,000 long years to degrade. But this garment made out of plastic bottles will naturally degrade in about 15 years” he explained.

Plastic T-shirts

The t-shirt made out of plastics was not different from the everyday t-shirt we wear. It looked the same and it felt the same. “Polyester is the best material in the world for dry fit garments. And it fits more into a country like Sri Lanka, where the climate is hot and humid. Apart from that, world-renowned brands like Nike and Adidas also uses polyester for their sportswear” Senavirathne said.

Petrochemicals are used in the normal process of making polyester yarn. Energy consumption, water consumption and emission of greenhouse gases of that process are very large compared to the process of producing recycled yarns. According to Senavirathne, using recycled plastics reduces the energy consumption by 45 per cent, water consumption by 20 per cent and greenhouse gas emission by 30 per cent in contrast to producing petrochemical-based polyester.

Another key aspect of RIZER is the involvement of marginalised communities in the business, making it a truly inclusive social entrepreneurship. “We work with marginalised communities to manufacture clothing. We provide them with sustainable living and training required to manufacture high-quality clothing for you. Thirty per cent of our profit goes to uplift the well-being of marginalised communities” the young entrepreneur said.

Even though recycled products/ garments are 30% -100% more expensive than ordinary garments in most parts of the world, Senavirathne tries to price a recycled product at the same price as an ordinary garment. Meanwhile, the RIZER team has decided to offer a 10 per cent discount to any customer who brings five empty water bottles along. They are currently building a wide network to collect water bottles from retailers with the help of the Central Environment Authority.

Other than in their Liberty plaza outlet, Rizer garments are also available at Colombo’s good market on Saturdays.