Unifi Inc. is on the verge of investing $28 million to expand its PET bottle recycling capacity by 75 percent in response to growing demand for its Repreve polyester yarn from environmentally minded brands such as Patagonia, The North Face, Quiksilver and even Ford Motor Co.

The Greensboro, NC company expects to break ground soon on a plant capable of producing 75 million pounds per year of clear plastic flake from disposable PET water bottles, said UFI's President and CEO Roger Berrier. The plant  is expected to employ 85 people when it comes on line next summer on the site of UFI's dyed yarn operations in Reidsville, NC . UFI completed an expansion at its existing recycling plant in Yadkinville, NC last year that boosted its annual capacity from 70 million to 100 million pounds of flake.

UFI confirmed plans earlier this month to expand its polyester yarn texturing capacity in the United States and Central America to meeting growing demand in the region. Last week, Berrier noted the added capacity will UFI to produce more of the lighter weight yarns that consumers are looking for in performance apparel offered by brands such as Nike, Under Armor, and Adidas. UFI CEO Jame Otterberg said UFI expects to invest roughly $150 million expanding its NAFTA/CAFTA polyester yarn manufacturing and recycling capacity in the three fiscal years ending June 30, 2017. That sum also includes the cost of building a solar farm to help power its existing Repreve recycling plant in Yadkinville, NC. 

Repreve, which is made from recycled PET water bottles, has become popular with environmentally minded consumer brands. The North Face expects all its polyester fabric, which accounts for 80 percent of the material used in its apparel, to be made from recycled content by 2016, according to its 2014 corporate sustainability report, which was released April 20. Timberland incorporated Renewable, Organic, or Recycled (ROR) materials into 79 percent of its footwear in 2014, up from 70 percent in 2013, according to its report, which was also released last week. Over 1.25 million pounds of recycled PET – the equivalent of 57 million plastic bottles – was incorporated into Timberland footwear,  making it the leading recycled material used by the company. Timberland estimates it has given more than 185 million plastic bottles new life in footwear.

Both The North Face and Timberland, which are owned by North Carolina-based VF Corp., are Unifi customers.

Unifi reported April 23 that growing demand for Repreve and its other synthetic yarns in the NAFTA and CAFTA regions increased its unit sales of textured polyester yarns by more than 7 percent in the fiscal third quarter ended March 29 compared with the year earlier quarter. The growth helped temper declines at the company's Brazilian operation, which is being ravaged by a sharp devaluation of the real, UFI posted net profits of $10.0 million, or 55 cents a share, for the quarter, more than double a year earlier, thanks in part to a jump in earnings at cotton spinner Parkdale America, which has also been expanding domestic capacity to meet growing regional demand from companies such as  Hanesbrands International and Fruit of the Loom.