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It's Time to Change Your Underwear: Getting Intimate with Patagonia's Capilene Recycling Program
By Susan Bean, NOLS Public Relations Intern

NOLS educates, as well as advocates, for our wilderness classrooms–but what exactly does that mean?
© Julie Cornia

Welcome back to NOLS’ gear room! This round we’re looking at what’s new in the world of sustainable gear: Patagonia’s Common Threads Recycling Program. For those of you who don’t know, the hottest new development in baselayer technology is recycled Capilene. Patagonia has found a way to take our old, ratty synthetics and break them down into virgin raw material that rebuilds to look fantastic and serve you well in cold and wet weather.

The recycling process begins with chopping up any old Polartec fleece, Patagonia fleece, Patagonia organic cotton t-shirts or Capilene fabrics that have been mailed back to Patagonia or turned in at collection centers (usually at a Patagonia retail store). Once ripped to shreds, the fabric pieces are broken down to the molecular level so that the quality of the polyester is as good as new. Then they melt the material and spin it into new fabrics that can be sold in stores.

NOLS has established Patagonia recycling stations at NOLS Rocky Mountain, NOLS Southwest, NOLS Pacific Northwest, and NOLS Teton Valley, so we went to our gear experts there to give us their thoughts on the process.

James Passanisi, Operations Manager at NOLS Southwest, responded with insightful comments that expressed both enthusiasm and reservations. While believing that “this is a healthy step for businesses to take,” he also hopes the program will expand so that “the economies of scale would allow for more efficiency in the process,” since shipping all the old Capilene to Japan to begin the recycling process nearly counteracts the benefits of the program. James also worries that “recycling is a band-aid for environmental problems,” and he would rather see consumers thoroughly wear out their Capilene before recycling it in order to buy the newest model.

Nonetheless, he is encouraged by the initiative and, like Outfitting Manager Kevin McGowan at NOLS Rocky Mountain, is offering all students the option to recycle, rather than trash their worn out items.  “The recycle program is still pretty new, but we're really excited to do our part!” says Kevin. Find out how to recycle your Capilene at

Calling All Gear Heads!

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Got a great new piece of gear that you’d like to tell other NOLS alumni about?

Write to and share your gear thoughts, questions and opinions. If it ends up in print, we’ll hook you up with a spiffy NOLS t-shirt or hat.

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