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Fabric Technology | Turning Plastic into Polyester

Single use plastic bottles are humanities shame, with drinking water available to so many of us through taps, we still buy these eco-enemies daily. This adds up to a staggering 300 million tons of plastic produced globally each year; at the same time, the classic go-with-everything cotton T takes around 2,700 litres of water to produce (yes, that’s just one T-shirt) when you consider the carbon emissions and energy needed on top of that, the impact is overwhelming. This makes plastic and textiles two of the largest contributors to waste and climate change.

However, some savvy individuals have seen potential in this tragedy and have developed an innovative system using our waste plastic and transforming it into fabric.  This solves a huge waste problem, while saving countless litres of water and large amounts of energy, reducing gas emissions too! So, how is it done? The process of turning used plastic bottles into polyester requires about 80 % less energy and 90% less water than new polyesters that are made directly from oil. Harvesting oil is hugely damaging to the environment in several ways, most prominently the harmful emissions that are warming the planet. The used bottles are collected and separated by colour, different coloured bottles make different coloured yarns. Clear plastic bottles make a white yarn, your Perrier green plastic bottles make green yarn and so on and so forth. The bottles are then washed, shredded and dried to create “Plastic flake”. The ‘plastic flake’ is then taken to a machine called an ‘extruder’. This extruder heats the flakes and pushes them through tiny holes to create fibres. These fine fibres are then collected and taken to be spun. Spinning the fibres makes them into yarn that can be woven into fabric. The yearn resembles wool, but can be blended with canvas or cotton to create different desired textures. This completes the cycle from bottle to fabric, creating clothes that are durable and eco friendly.

This manufacturing method is becoming increasingly popular, with awareness of the issues of plastic growing, we can see a demand for brands that are getting on board with the eco friendly pairing of plastic and textiles. One example is, Thread, an innovative company that has set about tackling an environmental issue and a social issue at the same time. They put it simply, saying “ We take the things you don’t want and turn them into things you didn’t know you needed”. Working primarily on cleaning up plastic in Haiti and creating working opportunities for the people there, they are the do-gooders dream. Having a transparent supply chain is key to their ethos and essential to their success, this is evident in their recent collaboration with Timberland, offering recycled and durable shoes. The benefits of turning plastic into polyester are clear. So let’s try to make our oceans just as clear, and support the companies testing this innovative technology.

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