Turning Trash into T-Shirts
It's estimated that the world consumes over 100,000,0000 drums of oil to create Polyester, which has become the most common fiber found in apparel today. Polyester is used 20% more times than cotton. It's shocking to find out that the US only recycles 30% of its plastic and the average American is throwing away about 185 lbs. of plastic a year.
In the fourth episode of the Feel Your Impact podcast, we talk to Chad Bolick of REPREVE/Unifi to understand how REPREVE is helping to keep plastic water bottles out of our landfills and oceans. We also learn about the process of turning plastic into a soft, recycled polyester fiber, which we proudly use in all of our Allmade products.
As Chad points out, it starts with recycling at a home. Due to the spread-out political and geographical landscape of the United States, we discussed the issues around the collection and regulations that make the reuse of recycling difficult in the US. What can we do to solve the problem and how can create a demand for brands that use recycled content help?
We then dive into a very interesting topic of the process of turning a bin of recycling to a soft fiber.
- It starts with the collection of recycling, in the US, we currently only recycle about 30% of our recycleable trash. How we advocate, vote, and help participate in recycling and collection.
- Once collected it goes to an MRF, “Material Reclamation Facility” for separation and sorting. Most recycling in the US is not pre-sorted so the MRF that collects it does a lot of manual sorting and bailing of the different types of materials to go to the next stage or recycling.
- Bails of recyclable plastic is received at the REPREVE | Unify recycling center and starts to go through a sorting process, this starts manually but continues to automated sorting that separates color and types of plastics.
- Once sorted the plastic is then round down so it can be further separated and purified.
- The separation process is done in water as different types of plastics have different weights, the polymer plastic is heavier and the bottle cap/label plastic is lighter and floats at the top, this is separated off and sold for other purposes.
- Once refined the poly is melted down into pellets ready for further purification and extrusion.
- During the melting process, the poly goes through different filters that take out the impurities in the plastic to get the finest quality result for textiles.
- The final step in the conversion process is extrusion, This is essentially re-heating up the poly pellets and pressing them through very very fine nozzles similar to a showerhead or spaghetti press depending on the type of fiber that is being produced sometimes this comes out as a continuous strand and sometimes it is chopped for the shorter length fibers used in the polyester blend of an Allmade shirt.
- Again depending on it’s fine I’ll use the yarn or fiber is sometimes textured to give it properties advantageous to textiles