Leonie Vaas fashioned her country’s taste for tea into a valuable tool for sustainability.
With Vaas as its manager for sustainability and innovations, Sri Lanka’s Hayleys Fabric PLC developed a textile dyeing method from tea waste.
Under its innovative method coined SustainabiliTea, tea waste is collected from the country’s tea-growing estates and the tea is extracted, leaving a natural solution used to dye fabric.
The process helps address the severe pollution caused by textile dyes and chemicals, and it reduces water and energy consumption.
Its development took time to test various methods and applications and to make it efficient and commercially viable, said Vaas, who for her work was named by the UN Global Compact as the 2021 SDG Pioneer for Responsible Production.
“One of the main challenges … is to find natural alternatives to replace synthetic substances and maintain the same output and efficiencies while ensuring profitability from the business aspect,” she says. “So when I was given the opportunity at Hayley's, I went ahead with my ideas to find innovation and sustainable solutions.”
Hayleys, the largest fabric manufacturer in Sri Lanka, has invested in solar energy panels for all of its factory rooftops, and Vaas initiated the company’s set of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle collections points so the containers can be recycled to produce polyester yarns.
“Our ultimate target of PET bottle recycled polyester fabrics is to protect the life below water while supporting our customers to be more responsible by wearing recycled polyester garments,” she says.
Hayleys maintains a 20-acre green belt and protects an eight-acre wetland zone that it plans to convert to a biodiversity park, and about two thirds of the energy it consumes is from renewable sources, said Vaas.
It was the first textile firm in Sri Lanka to sign up to the Science Based Targets initiative, and it was selected as a member of the country’s climate emergency task force.
Vaas said the company’s sustainability work touches on several SDGs - SDG 9, industry, innovation and infrastructure; SDG 13, climate action; SDG 14, life below water; and SDG 15, life on land.
It uses its work to help spread the message as well, she said.
“My company being one of the leading innovative fabric suppliers in the global market allows us to approach prominent clothing brands who are very keen on sustainability,” she says.
“I'm extremely proud that I could convert my passion into reality through the sustainable and circularity project,” Vaas says. “Also, I'm humbly proud that these projects are being recognized internationally, which now gives me great courage and strength to take this journey.”