GREENSBORO — Greensboro-based Unifi is setting out to save the oceans one plastic bottle at a time.

The textile company, which makes synthetic fiber for yarns and a wide range of other products, has started creating products from recycled plastic bottles collected near beaches in countries that may otherwise dump them into the ocean.

The Repreve line of products was in the news a couple of years ago when Unifi said it was making the fiber out of recycled bottles from Flint, Mich., where residents were using millions of water bottles after the city’s water system was contaminated by lead.

The new line, Repreve Our Ocean, is using bottles collected from “countries or areas that lack formal waste or recycling systems,” the company said in a news release.

A Unifi spokeswoman said that entrepreneurs in such countries will likely collect and sell the bottles if they know there’s a customer like Unifi.

Since 2007, the company said, it has recycled more than 15 billion bottles for the Repreve product. Its goal is to recycle 20 billion by 2020, according to its website.

Unifi said that 8.8 million tons of plastics are dumped into the oceans every year, which is equal to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. The company said that at least 80 percent of the plastic comes into the oceans from land.

“Repreve Our Ocean is a premium collection of fiber and resin sourced from bottles at high risk of entering in the ocean,” Jay Hertwig, group vice president of global branded sales for Unifi, said in the news release.

Hertwig said the program is a way for Unifi and the companies that make clothing and fabric out of the fiber to make a statement to consumers about the companies’ approach to protecting the environment. Materials and fabrics made from Repreve are manufactured by other companies into everything from car seats to athletic tops.

“Forward-thinking brands that want to take a stronger stand in addressing ocean pollution and want to make an even more specific statement about protecting the environment now have a brand new option,” Hertwig said in the release. “Repreve Our Ocean is made for the good of tomorrow, and this premium product will appeal to consumers that want to do all that they can to help protect the environment for the next generation.”

The ocean program is the latest attempt by the textile maker to stay relevant in a world that has been harsh to U.S. textile companies.

Unifi has thrived in a tough marketplace by coming up with such products as Repreve and then finding creative ways to sell them. Repreve has become such a success that other companies are licensing the name to make other products from the polymer that Unifi creates at its recycling plants.

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Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.

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