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Voltaic Systems Gives Back

Voltaic Systems Gives Back

Inc, Magazine: Leading By Example - All The Way To China - October 2006

Shayne McQuade's company, Voltaic Systems, makes backpacks and messenger bags faced with solar panels that can charge things such as cell phones and PDAs. They're made in China. McQuade would like to explain why that is an environmentally progressive approach.

It's precisely because so many things are made in China. By sourcing his bags there, McQuade accrued a little influence. He told his manufacturer that he wanted the bags to be made from recycled PET plastic--soda bottles, essentially. The manufacturer couldn't find a supplier. So McQuade went to Taiwan and found the supplier himself. And here's the thing: Now his manufacturer makes products of recycled PET for lots of clients. Big clients...

"By working with these factories, we have a hope of changing the manufacturing systems and making those materials and that fabric available through mainstream channels," says McQuade. "And that's where you change the world. If I'm doing some artisanal project in the U.S., it's not the same."

McQuade dreamed up Voltaic, which is based in New York City, while bumming around Spain. He was looking for a change after a stint as a consultant at McKinsey and later as an entrepreneur during the dot-com boom, and he needed a way to recharge his cell phone. He ultimately devised a bag designed around lightweight, durable solar panels and a small rechargeable battery.

Information from


Facts about RPET recycled polyester/plastic fabrics:

1. Of the synthetic fibers, RPET polyester fabric has almost a 90% lower carbon footprint than nylon

2. RPET polyester fabric has a 75% lower carbon footprint than virgin polyester

3. RPET polyester fabric has a 50% lower carbon footprint than organic cotton


1. PET and RPET:

PET stands for polyethylene terephthalate and is also known as polyester. Recycled polyester, recycled PET or RPET are all considered synonyms for the same material. RPET is made from used plastic bottles which have been collected, cleaned, smashed, melted, polymerized and finally spun into yarn – and ultimately into RETH¿NK FABRIC™ and products.

2. Facts about RPET:

The benefits of RPET are found in various sources. Several environmentalists, private and governmental organizations/agencies, and eco-textile writers praise the recycling of plastic bottles. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website lists the following advantages of RPET over virgin PET:

RPET Benefits

The most obvious and tangible argument for recycling PET is the diversion of plastic bottles from ending up in landfills and oceans, a place where they are likely to stay for another 250 – 500 years until they finally decompose.

3. Recycling Process:

The first step in recycling is separating plastics from other recyclable materials. Next, a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) or Plastic Intermediate Processing Facility (IPC) separates the plastics by their resin codes. The MRF or IPC flakes the PET plastic and sends it to a Plastic Recycling Facility (PRF) or Reclaimer for cleaning. These are the flakes that manufacturers turn into items such as carpets, automobile parts, tennis balls and of course fabric to make recycled polyester apparel.

Since the 1970s, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) has been used to package a variety of consumer products.


A recycling process always begins with the consumer. In the United States there are four different options for recycling:

* Returnable container legislation (only enacted by 10 states) – Allows consumers to turn in their carbonated plastic bottles and receive payment for the bottle.

* Curbside recycling or waste management - 55% of all PET plastic is collected by waste management firms.

* Drop Off Recycling - This occurs more in rural communities. Central locations such as churches or schools are designated with large public bins marked for separate recyclable materials.

* Buy Back Centers - Private companies may buy plastic back from consumers. Usually the companies will have specific requests to the condition of the plastic.

Through these collecting efforts, tons of plastic is recycled annually at a growing rate of about 27% a year. Amazingly, in the United States 80% of consumers have access to recycling programs. With advancing technology and a growing number of consumers recycling, the recycling process will only keep growing exponentially over the years.


* In 2007 3.7 million tons of PET bottles were used compared to 2.3 million tons in 2002 by consumers worldwide

* Worldwide 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year

* The recycling process produces ½ billion pounds of recycled PET annually

* Recycling 1 ton of PET containers save 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space

* The average household worldwide produced 42 pounds of PET plastic bottles in the year 2005

Until we cut down our use of throw away plastics, we have to create news ways of reusing our waste. We are creating a use in fashion and apparel.