An airline and several police departments are recycling employee uniforms — but workers aren’t getting hand-me-downs.
The duds are being turned into products ranging from auto fabrics to biodegradable planters.
Last spring, Japan Airlines began turning 230 tons of uniforms for cabin attendants and ground and maintenance crews into material for sound-proofing cars.
JAL used to burn old uniforms to prevent them from getting into the hands of criminals.
When the airline found itself in the position of having to dispose of a huge number of uniforms after integrated with Japan Air System in April, it decided to try recycling.
JAL buttons and logos are removed before processing as a precaution in case the clothing gets into public circulation.
The process takes about 3 1/2 months to complete and costs about double the incineration price, according to the company.
A JAL official said the airline changed its stance on uniform disposal because of the effects on the environment — burning the clothing generates carbon dioxide.
Textile trading firm Chikuma & Co. of Osaka, which handles JAL-uniform recycling, said there is a growing trend to recycle fabrics for use in other products.
The National Police Agency also recommends prefectural governments recycle uniforms. The clothes, covering an estimated 240,000 cops nationwide, must also be kept from the public’s hands for security reasons.
Prefectural governments are responsible for disposing of old uniforms. They typically have them shredded until they are unrecognizable and then they are used in other products.
“Prefectural governments must establish a recycling process and deal appropriately with environmental problems,” an NPA accounting official said.
Clothes recycling projects can be found in other industries. East Railway Japan Co. put uniforms into a melting furnace to produce fuel gas from fiscal 2002 to 2003.
Hyakugo Bank in Tsu, Mie Prefecture, abolished uniforms for its female staff and converted the uniforms into biodegradable planters, which it distributed to elementary schools.
The planters disintegrate in six to 12 months and can be thrown away with regular trash.