Pollution and man-made waste are in the news, and with good reason. Waste management has become a global problem that needs cooperation to solve. We at All In Packaging are always interested in innovative solutions to lessen plastic waste. When it comes to plastic bottles, one of the surprising outcomes has been the way inventive industries have recycled discarded plastics into fabrics and clothing. It is a little known fact that bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET, sometimes called PETE) can be, through a long process, recycled into clothing items you might find on the high street or mall.
It all starts with community recycling programs through which plastic can be collected in bulk. At the recycling center, the bottles are shredded to set free any spare liquid that may be leftover in the plastic bottles. The shredded bottles are then shipped to processing centers locally and worldwide, with manufacturing giant China being the main destination.
The first step to turning the commodity into textiles is to sort the clear from colored plastic. Clear plastics are what is needed for white fabric or fabric that can be dyed. The plastic is then separated from bottle caps and any remaining labeling through different stages of washing. The clear plastic shreds are then dried over the course of many hours in huge ovens.
Once dry, the material is heated to its melting point, then forced through a sieve, which turns the mass into plastic thread. The thread is then heated and bound together for strength. This bonded material is then ripped apart into a plastic fluff, which is bailed up and sent to another factory.
The material again goes through a process that will eventually yield usable thread. Miles and miles of thread, collected on bobbins. This is then woven into polyester fabric, then put through a softening process. At that point it is finally ready to be sent to manufacturers, where it will be made into clothing to be sold around the world. So when it comes to plastic waste, remember that people are endlessly industrious. If necessity is the mother of invention, that mother may be wearing a top made of recycled plastic bottles.