The plastic problem is (and has been) a huge focus of our battle with the climate crisis. Plastic continues to be a major focus in the question of: ‘What do we do?’ And ‘Where are we (meaning humanity) going? So why is it important to recycle plastics? Recycling helps to fight the plastic problem on several fronts. Discarded plastic waste can be removed from spaces where it can do damage, aka ecosystems, landfills, waterways, and oceans. Additionally innovative recycling can create economic opportunities using these materials. One of the ways that many companies re-use and recycle plastics for new items is to remake the material into fabrics.
Because of the differing chemical makeup of different types of plastics, some types are much more difficult to recycle than others. According to SeattlePi’s article regarding The Importance of Plastic Recycling, common items that make good recyclable materials include “vinyl packaging, medicine bottles made of polypropylene, low-density polyethylene disposable drink cups and high-density polyethylene milk bottles. Everyday examples of goods made with recycled plastics include sh
ampoo bottles, traffic cones, floor tiles and oil funnels.“
But how do these items transform from their current post-consumer state into fabric? After finding the correct plastic to generate into a new product/item, the manufacturer will typically shred the items into smaller pieces. A separation process will also occur as any items like bottle caps would need to be removed. Caps and additional pieces are actually formulated from a different makeup of plastic so they must be separated out. Once the items are broken down into smaller pieces, they are heated. A machine called an extruder is used to create the melted plastic into long strands. The extruder forces the plastic through small holes that create these threadlike strands. According to Guildford of Maine’s description of the process, the created fibers are then “bailed and ready to be turned into yarn. At this point the fiber very closely resembles wool. The final steps in turning the bottles into yarn can now occur. This consists of carding, which is a machine that aligns all the fibers in the same direction, and then a spinning machine that actually makes the yarn.”
SustainMag explains how incredibly important using recycled bottles to create new products by quantifying the results, stating, reducing our plastic waste is a fantastic reason to use recycled plastics, it can take nine clear plastic water bottles to make one T-shirt for Toad&Co, 25 plastic bottles to make one pair of Girlfriend Collective leggings, and 12 bottles for Ralph Lauren’s Earth Polo. For textiles, hard plastic containing PET, can be recycled like plastic bottles, and has been one of the selling points by brands like Everlane, Ralph Lauren, Athleta, Patagonia, AMUR, Toad&Co and any label that uses recycled polyester.”
One of the major problems with plastic is its immense durability. This is a great property of plastic, but creates a major problem when it comes to single-use items. Because of this, plastics accumulate at a much faster rate than other materials, as they do not break down in the same way as natural items. Recycling plastic into new items is a very important way to continue using a material that is present, but also to remove these items from the environment. Many brands are realizing the importance of innovation and utilizing recycled materials to reduce their environmental impact, but also to let it be known that this is a vital mission for the company. Some companies that are using recycled materials in their products include Mara Hoffman, Quicksilver, and Patagonia. Many companies are also utilizing creative ways to reuse and recycle their products that already exist in the market with buy back and take back programs that re-integrate and re-use past products in innovative ways.
Recycling plastics helps reduce the use of limited resources, like fossil fuels. SeattlePi asserts that “According to the Energy Information Administration, 191 million barrels of crude oil were used to make plastics in 2010, or about 2.7 percent of all U.S. consumption. In addition, plastics manufacturers consumed 412 billion cubic feet of natural gas to make materials and resins; of this total, 13 billion cubic feet became plastic and 399 billion cubic feet were burned to fuel the production process. In addition to reducing the need for oil, plastic recycling saves the energy needed to produce new materials. According to Stanford University, a ton of recycled plastic saves 7,200 kilowatt-hours of electricity, or about enough energy to run a household for seven months.” If those numbers don’t convince you that recycled products need to be produced more, utilized more, and integrated into every brand, we don’t know what will.
See (and shop) our recycled running sock made from recycled PET bottles below!
Shop it HERE.