Updated: Jul 7, 2020
Two apparently distant sectors, those of fashion and plastic. However, they are closer than you can imagine. Here's how recycled plastic can help the fashion industry become more environmentally sustainable.
Are the clothes we wear "green"?
When we ask ourselves, which industries are causing the greatest damage to the environment, we usually include the manufacturing, energy, transport and perhaps even food industries on the list. We are not aware, however, that the fashion industry is graded second in this unhappy ranking. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) establishes it. United Nations data indicate that 93 billion cubic meters of water are used by the fashion industry every year. In order to produce a pair of jeans, 7500 liters of water are needed, equivalent to the amount of water the average person drinks over a period of seven years. Furthermore, this production sector is responsible for a greater amount of CO2 emissions than that released by all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Moreover, half a million tons of microfibres, corresponding to about 3 million barrels of oil, end up in the ocean every year. The business model that dominates the sector is that of "fast fashion", which offers consumers new collections on a continuous basis at very competitive prices. Industry experts say that clothing production has doubled between 2000 and 2014, and therefore it is essential to ensure that clothes are produced as ethically and sustainably as possible.
A company that has made ethics and sustainability its strong points is Patagonia, founded in 1973 in the United States. Already in 1993, this brand began to develop its outdoor clothing using recycled material, more precisely plastic. Specifically, Patagonia recycles used soda bottles, unusable second choice fabrics and disused garments. It transforms them into polyester fibers to create new garments. The firm is currently employing minimal quantities of virgin polyester and is working to convert the remaining quantity into recycled material.
In the fall season of 2019, 78% of their polyester fabrics were made from recycled polyester. Thanks to this strategy, they reduced CO2 emissions by 59% compared to those they would have emitted using only virgin polyester fiber. One of Patagonia's short-term goals is to reuse plastic waste collected in the oceans. (If you have not yet read the article "Plastic hunting: the new frontiers of waste collection at sea" go to find out by clicking on the link). In the long term, the company is committed to looking for new technologies for chemical recycling that allow the recycling of the garments themselves.
“At Patagonia, we appreciate that all life on earth is under threat of extinction. We’re using the resources we have—our business, our investments, our voice and our imaginations—to do something about it.”
Polyester: a dynamic material
"Polyester" (more commonly known as PET) is one of the most used synthetic fibers in the textile sector, it can be worked alone (as in the realization of the "fleece") or together with other synthetic or natural fibers (such as cotton). In recent years, thanks to new technologies and modern processes, this fiber has been significantly improved and has been made more versatile and suitable for different conditions of use. In the clothing sector, polyester is mainly used as padding for winter clothing, as a starting fiber for obtaining "fleece" and as a breathable material for technical-sports clothing. Furthermore, it is a fiber that is inserted in the creation of any other modern item of clothing: t-shirts, polo shirts, sweatshirts, shirts, pants, tracksuits, jackets, gloves, hats, etc. This multipurpose material can originate extremely light and breathable fabrics as well as particularly resistant, water-repellent and very compact fabrics; moreover, if properly worked, it can be very soft and velvety to the touch.
In the synthesis phase, the molecules are associated with each other, through chemical polymerization reactions, giving rise to solid materials (grains or flakes) to be easily transported and processed. In the spinning phase the polymers are first made liquid, by melting or dissolution and "extruded", namely passed through tiny holes that vary in shape (circular, triangular, etc.), size and number with the characteristics of the thread to be produced. After that, the burrs are consolidated by cooling. At this point, having formed the thread, this chemical fiber is treated with antistatic products and finally wrapped on reels and passed on to ironing.
At Soluzioni Plastiche, we take care of supplying the best granule or ground material for the creation of polyester fibers. We act with respect for the environment, converting different types of plastic waste into this new raw material. Our goal is to encourage the reuse of plastic and the reduction of waste, thus decreasing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.
If you have not yet read the article "Recycled plastic and fashion" and you would like to know more about these topics, go to find out by clicking on the link.