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Recycled plastic and fashion

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

A possible match

It has been known for years that the fashion industry is one of the most polluting businesses in the world, to be precise it is the second most polluting after oil. Worldwide, in one year about 92 million tons of textile waste are produced. Fashion accounts for 8.1% of greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention that 85% of clothes end up in landfills, accumulating more than 12 million tons per year.

Clothes waste

The production of natural textile, synthetic and conventional artificial fibres have a very strong impact on the planet: groundwater pollution, air pollution, land use, production of synthetic garments that are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable (garments that are the main cause of the spread of the famous microplastics in our oceans).

Since the data on the pollution of the environment by the textile and clothing industry began to spread (even the giant Vogue has dedicated a cover to the topic), the major brands of clothing, but also those of low-cost fashion, have been convinced to change direction and take new alternative paths, initiating research and development of new technologies that allow us to continue to produce optimizing existing resources, by recycling and recomposing them with absolutely innovative and surprising results. Taking advantage of the extreme resistance of recycled materials, such as rubber, plastic and PVC, the most ecologically sensitive designers offer clothing lines created with recycled or waste materials, giving them new life through unique pieces, characterized by a high rate of creativity. Some types of plastic can be renewed (recycled) an infinite number of times without losing their properties and characteristics.

This is how plastic, with the help of a correct separate collection, becomes the most sustainable solution we have - from an environmental point of view - to produce clothing. The reduced impact of a yarn made for example with mechanically recycled PET is made evident by a study by Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres, a non-profit organization with the mission of 'make sustainable fashion common practice' that analyzes the life cycle of products and their fibers through 6 parameters (greenhouse gas emissions, human toxicity, eco-toxicity, Energy, water and land). Based on these parameters, each fibre is scored and placed into one of five classifications: Class A to Class E. Fibres for which not enough data was available have been listed as Unclassified. The result is that first class, mechanically recycled Polyester and PET are found, along with organic hemp and flax.

So when we talk about sustainable clothing, eco clothing and eco fashion we mean the set of brands, tailoring companies and research of fibers and fabrics that have the goal of producing clothing while keeping in mind what the environmental impact of the production itself may be, aiming to reduce it as much as possible.

Beyond the analysis of the eco-sustainability of natural fabrics such as linen, cotton, hemp and bamboo, in our context it is interesting to understand the importance of recycled synthetic fabrics. Obtaining a fabric from the renewed plastic material has essentially two advantages: the possibility of creating high-performance fabrics according to the requirements of industrial design and having very low environmental costs. Although natural and organic fabrics have low energy costs in production (and not polluting), these raw materials are in most cases imported from abroad, which greatly increases the environmental (and often social) costs. In the final analysis, therefore, we can say that fabrics made from recycled plastic yarns are the best solution for creating eco-logical clothing at km0.

It seems a nonsense, but it is from plastic and its recycling that most of the innovative products of the green field are born.

PET bottles waste

The credit for this eco-friendly revolution is due to scientists such as those at Stanford University in the United States. Thanks to technological research, it is now possible to obtain the most advanced fabrics from PET, such as lightweight polyester jersey, breathable and resistant to coloring with eco-friendly, non-toxic dyes. In a special process, the plastic of the bottles is reduced to flakes, melted and purified before being extruded into fibre and then spun.

So, if recycled bottles can give life to glamorous yarns and technical fabrics, let's see are the most famous brands engaged in recycling:

  • POLARTEC: an American company (Andover, Massachusetts) that supplies all the major brands of technical clothing - from the North Face to Salewa, from Adidas to Patagonia. It produces eco-sustainable and eco-compatible fabrics starting from the recycling of plastic bottles and has just reached the incredible figure of one billion recycled bottles since the beginning of its activity. The company has developed the Repreve 100, a filament made up of 100% plastic bottles that in terms of quality has nothing to envy to virgin polyester fabrics. The Repreve 100 is available in a wide variety of colours and styles, to meet the needs of any brand that seeks to incorporate an ecological element into its clothing.

  • GANT: the Swedish company, has launched the new shirts in Tech Prep™, a textile containing plastic recovered from the ocean. Recycled bottles and various plastics are collected and processed into polyester yarn using Seaqual™. Stretch, breathable and moisture-resistant shirts. Buttons and packaging are also made from recycled materials.

All clothes in the picture above are made from 100% recycled plastic from the ocean

  • CARVICO: the company from Pavia ( nowadays international, with offices in Hong Kong, Australia and USA) has created an exclusive eco-sustainable vest in 100% recycled polyester, coming from plastic bottles. As the brand itself points out, compared to virgin polyester, recycled polyester also has the advantage of requiring less energy throughout the production cycle.

  • QUAGGA: the Turin-based company that produces 100% recycled fibre garments harmful substances free, has launched the Q-Bottles project, to transform simple plastic bottles into sustainable, cruelty free and Made in Italy clothing. With Q-Bottles, in fact, every jacket, sweatshirt and polo shirt has been made with the plastic of 9 - 12 renewed bottles, which are not abandoned in the environment. The headquarters of the project is in Piedmont: the recycled fiber Newlife is produced by Sinterama Spa, Biella, while the transformation of the fibers into fabric is by Alpimaglia Srl, in the province of Turin. The latest addition to this adventure of sustainability and design is the ambitious Ecosoft fabric, an incredible material that feels like soft boiled wool to the touch and is instead all made of renewed plastic.

  • ESEMPLARE: the innovative Italian/Irish brand of casual clothing, presents its new green proposals, inspired by the objectives of recycling and the circulary economy. The padding of the brand's jackets is made entirely of Thermore Ecodown, a recycled fibre material that allows up to 10 plastic bottles to be reused for each product. The outer surface of the garments is made of recycled nylon re-pet. Finally, the interior is made of ecological fur: no goose feathers, no skins, no real furs.

  • ECOALF: very interesting is this virtuous Spanish brand that deals with the recovery of waste abandoned in the Mediterranean to obtain quality yarns used to produce ecological clothing and fashion accessories. Born from an idea of Javier Goyeneche, Ecoalf has now become one of the leaders in the sector. The garments produced are sold in the flagship store in Madrid and in 430 multi-brand stores around the world, of which 310 are based in Europe. Every day, 600 fishing boats ply the waters of the Mediterranean to collect the waste that infests it and to date have removed from its waters about 65 tons of rubbish turned into useful, quality and fashionable products. Jackets, shoes, bags, backpacks thanks to this brand are transformed into a concrete help to protect the environment. It is no coincidence that the company already boasts countless requests for replicas all over the world.

Among the low cost brands that are investing in the recovery of plastic recovered from the oceans there is also the Swedish giant H&M that in its spring/summer 2017 collection had launched in the line Conscius, a series of clothes made of Bionic, a fabric similar to chiffon but made from marine plastic waste. The commitment to the creation of clothes made of recycled plastic seems to redeem the brand from the link with fast fashion, a fashion created with materials that deteriorate quickly and therefore need to be replaced periodically, creating waste of resources and pollution.

But not just clothing, shoes, too:

  • ADIDAS: In reality the first step Adidas has taken in 2012 with the uniforms for volunteers of the Olympic Games in London manufactured with recycled water bottle. In 2016 the first line of "eco" shoes produced in series was launched, thanks to the collaboration with Parley for the Oceans: part of the yarn is made with Parley Ocean Plastic™ material, obtained by recycling plastic waste found on the coasts and destined to end up in the oceans. In 2017 Adidas sold one million of these shoes, 95% of which (laces, heel lining, lining, stripes and other details) are made from recycled waste: To make a single shoe you need the plastic contained in 11 bottles. But research continues and in April 2019 Adidas presented Futurecraft.loop: a 100% recyclable running shoe. Sports shoes are generally made with a complex mixture of materials and elements glued together, making them a product that can only be recycled as objects of lower value and quality. These shoes are based on a new approach to the design of high performance shoes: they are made of a single material and assembled without glue. Thus, once the shoes are at the end of their life they must be returned to Adidas: they are then washed and granulated, then remelted to create the basic material for a new pair of shoes, without waste. Adidas' goal is to get rid of virgin polyester by 2024.

  • VENETHICA: based in Castelfranco Veneto (Italy) has produced a shoe that is entirely ecological: the upper is made from recycled fire hoses, the inserts are in rice and cereals, dyeing and glues are water-based, the sole is entirely biodegradable.

Also the main players Nike and Reebook are moving in this perspective of circular economy and in recent years have presented their sneakers of recycled plastic, from used shoes and reduced to pieces the first and recycled plastic caught in the oceans the second.

There is also the Spanish Flamingos'Life, which has a line of sneakers made entirely from plastic bottles.

The road is now open and the whole world of clothing manufacturers, from big brands to small ones, is aligning. In the next few years the production of ethical fashion will be normal and to close the great circle of vanity will require the increasingly convinced participation of consumers of sustainable fashion, that is, all of us, because green fashion is becoming more beautiful and cool, as much as the rest of our wardrobe.


Credit to:

  • Cosmopolitan – G. Rossi - aprile 2019 – luglio 2019;

  • Fashion United – I. Naef- aprile 2019; luglio 2019;

  • CSR&Imprese – G. Berni – gennaio 2019;

  • Moda che cambia – C. Perinelli – giugno 2019;





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