Is recycling plastic into fabric the answer to pollution?
There is no such thing as away. When we throw anything away, it must go somewhere. – Annie Leonard
The most common type of plastic, polyethylene, is recyclable and is usually melted down and recycled into other plastic items such as grocery bags and plastic wrap. It’s always been thought to be counter-productive to transform plastic into fabric, but that’s exactly what some scientists have done recently.
Is recycling plastic into fabric the answer?
The problem with plastic
Plastic works too well, that’s the problem.
It’s relatively cheap and easy to make, waterproof, tough, lightweight, and can be fashioned into pretty much any shape you can imagine.
That’s why it’s perfect for low-value items such as packaging and storage.
The problem comes with what to do with it afterward – it takes hundreds of years to decompose.
Polyethylene terephthalate, usually abbreviated to PET, is the most common type of plastic and is 100% recyclable.
Of course, the issue is, not everyone recycles.
Breakthrough at MIT
Around 60% of our clothes are made from synthetic material, mostly polyester, acrylic and nylon, so it’s not a stretch to imagine plastic bags being transformed into fabric.
The problem is, the type of plastic used is very different from synthetic fibres, with polyethylene locking in water and sweat, as it’s unable to draw away and evaporate moisture.
But recently scientists at MIT have made fabrics from polythene in a move they say could reduce plastic pollution and make the fashion industry more sustainable.
They claim that not only is it possible to make a textile from polyethylene, but the result is a silky, lightweight fabric that absorbs and evaporates water faster than common textiles like as cotton, nylon and polyester.
On top of that, they have also calculated the ecological footprint from such recycling, and contrary to most assumptions, recycled polyethylene fabrics may have a smaller environmental impact over their life cycle than traditional synthetic textiles.
And because it is made up of only one type of plastic, polyethylene, this new fabric can be recycled into new garments over and over again!
Brands who are recycling plastic into fabric
There are a few big brands that are supporting this new textile and encouraging recycling plastic into fabric.
Girlfriend Collective partners with a recycling centre in Taiwan that sorts, cleans and preps PET plastic to be recycled into their leggings and bras.
No one uses more recycled polyester in the industry than Nike. In fact, 75 percent of all Nike shoes and apparel now contain some recycled material.
This isn’t really a consumer-based brand, but DGrade makes clothing for other companies to brand on their own, and they’re all made completely from recycled bottles. Their line includes tees and polos.
A global problem
Developed countries have adopted the trend of reusing and recycling.
Big, well-known textile companies have moved with the times and implemented programs to “Go Green”.
This has been noticeable during the COVID-19 crisis, with many textile companies coming up with impressive ideas for clothing, shoes, face masks etc. made from recycled plastic.
Many of the young entrepreneurs during lockdown explored this area, coming up with impressive ideas and solutions when it comes to recycling plastic into fabric.
But what about the developing or pacific countries – are they adopting this trend?
The market for recycling has been slow but is starting to compete with the developed countries.
There are plenty of textile companies, entrepreneurs and skilled people out there, who have the courage to start something new when it comes to recycling plastic into fabric.
All they need is encouragement, support and funding. It will be a graceful journey from old accepted trends to new recycled plastic trends.
Let’s open our hands and welcome these new cultural trends.
At immago, we’re determined to help businesses make the switch to a more environmentally sustainable future.
As technology improves, especially recycling methods, we promise we’ll always be at the forefront of sustainability, helping our clients aim for a greener future, but always through a solid business approach.
Contact us today if you would like to know more about how we can help you and your business march into the future with confidence and pride.