Clothes Made Out of Plastic
Clothes are an everyday necessity and for many an important form of expression. However, as we are continuing to learn the extent of the effect human actions have on our environment, sustainability is becoming one of the major topics in the textiles and clothing industry.
One way of acquiring sustainability is sustainable clothing. It refers to fabrics derived from eco-friendly resources or recycled materials like recycled plastics. Most of us are aware of the plastic waste problem we face. As we aim to reduce plastic pollution, turning plastic waste into clothes could be a game-changer.
In modern days we see all sorts of innovations in using recycled plastic to make stunning clothing. Believe it or not, the future of fashion is going totally green and innovative. Sewing sustainable clothes from plastic and helping save the planet is a trend that is going to conquer all runways, and here is how it all functions.
- Making clothes from discarded plastic bottles means we can reuse plastic that would otherwise end up in landfills, or worse, the ocean.
- The majority of current evidence suggests that recycled plastic clothing is safe to wear, however, there are concerns that toxic contaminants may be mixed in during the recycling process.
- People are becoming more conscious about the planet. They are seeking a greener way of living, and so, the demand for plastic clothing is on the rise.
What is Clothing Made Out of Plastic?
It’s now as easy to wear a plastic water bottle as to drink out of one. Whether in the form of a swimsuit or a puffer jacket, recycled plastics have become the material that makes up much of our clothing. Technology allows us to use recycled plastic to create sustainable fashion. What’s more, clothes from plastic waste can help to reduce carbon emissions.
When we think of plastic, we think of it as a hard and solid material. A material that is durable, flexible, and used in a range of applications. However, when it comes to clothing made from plastic, there is often no real difference between texture or quality from that of normal clothing.
Transforming single-use plastic into clothing might be difficult to imagine. However, as this approach develops we’ll see more clothing made from plastic waste, such as fishing nets or plastic bottles, turned into fabrics.
Plastics Used for Clothes
Today, about 69% of clothes are made up of synthetic fibers, including elastane, nylon, and acrylic. Polyester is the most common, making up 52% of all fiber production. Plastic’s unique durability and versatility have made it indispensable to the fashion industry.
Polyester (polyethylene terephthalate) is a synthetic fabric derived from petroleum-based products obtained from fossil fuels, which are non-renewable resources and a big pollutant. To produce plastic-based textiles for the fashion industry, an estimated 342 million barrels of oil are used every year. Polyester accounts for 52% of the overall fiber market, and around 80% of synthetic fibers. Most polyesters aren’t biodegradable and will decompose in up to 200 years, leaving toxins behind.
Acrylic is a synthetic fiber made from polymers formed by acrylonitrile or vinyl cyanide, also produced from fossil fuels. It’s used for warmer clothes because of its heat-retention qualities. Acrylic is also not biodegradable, and decomposing could take up to 200 years, and it’s also not recyclable. Another very important matter to have in consideration is that it can be harmful to wear it. The main ingredient in acrylic is acrylonitrile, which can enter the body through skin absorption, inhalation, and ingestion, and cause several symptoms, including headache, nausea, and cancer.
Nylon is the third synthetic fabric we will discuss, as it is a type of plastic that derives from crude oil and petroleum–non-renewable energy–and it accounts for about 12% of all synthetic fabrics. A very popular nylon product is tights, and to get that elasticity, the product must be put through intensive chemical processes, that are harmful to the environment. Nylon is also not biodegradable. It can take nylon between 30 to 40 years to break down.
Elastane is a polyether-polyuria copolymer invented in 1958 by chemist Joseph Shivers at DuPont’s Benger Laboratory in Waynesboro, Virginia, USA. It is made through a process of chemical reactions between a diisocyanate and polyester, which results in a polymer that can be spun. It is made up of a long-copolymer called polyurethane. Elastane is a lightweight, synthetic fiber that is used to make stretchable clothing such as sportswear. Elastane has an inherently higher value than similar synthetic fabrics, such as polyester and rayon, due to its elasticity. Garments made with elastane fabric are not biodegradable.
Process of Clothing from Waste Plastics
The plastic waste gets collected and then compressed and placed into bales before transportation to the factory that processes plastic waste. Once at the facility, they break the plastic waste down into small flakes.
Following this, they get turned into small pellets at another facility. The pellets are then melted yet again before being filtered and spun into threads by being passed through a nozzle that resembles a showerhead. This turns the plastic into a viscose yarn for further treatment.
How the yarn is treated will depend on how it is used. Therefore, it can be used in a range of clothing. The entire process creates clothing that can remain within the recycling process.
It means these clothes can be recycled again and again. This is known as the circular economy, and many fashion designers are now turning to this more sustainable approach.
Issues Related to Clothes Made from Plastics
Whilst transforming plastic into clothing provides an appealing solution to the amount of plastic waste floating in the oceans or covering the land. Making clothes out of recycled plastic is great because it gives the plastic a second life instead of letting it rot in a landfill or pollute our oceans. But on the other hand, recycled plastic is still plastic, and clothes made with it will have many of the issues that clothes made of virgin plastic have-
Impact of downcycling
Plastic bottles can be recycled multiple times and made into new plastic bottles. Recycling plastic bottles to make more plastic bottles reduces the amount of virgin plastic the plastic industry needs. Therefore, a further-reaching impact is that the process of turning plastic bottles into clothes takes them out of this circular recycling loop. The plastic bottle industry, therefore, has to turn to virgin plastic to fill the gap left by fashion brands stockpiling plastic to make unrecyclable clothing.
Issue related to microplastics
One of the other main problems with clothing made from plastic, whether it is virgin plastic or recycled plastic, is that they release microplastics when they are washed. Microplastics are what we call fragments of any type of plastic less than 5 mm in length. Sometimes these are visible to the human eye, other times they are so small that they cannot be seen. Microplastics enter our food chain when they enter our oceans and waterways, and enter our soil. This microplastic then ends up in our food, and ultimately in our bodies. It has been estimated that half a million tons of plastic microfibers, equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles, shed during washing end up in the ocean and ultimately enter the food chain.
Fast fashion issue
One of the many issues with fast fashion clothing is that shoppers wear an item of clothing just a few times before it is discarded. When our charity shops are overrun by cheap clothing which they can’t sell, it gets sold off to developing countries. Here it is chopped up into rags, sold at markets, or thrown into landfill. It simply isn’t sustainable to buy so many clothes, even if they are made from plastic bottles.
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How to be More Eco-friendly with Clothes?
There goes a proverb “where there is a will, there is a way”. Similarly, these issues have solutions also. If you are wondering what to do regarding these, then there are lots of other sustainable choices you can make.
- The first is not buying anything you don’t need.
- Shopping secondhand and shopping from sustainable clothing brands.
- Buying clothes made from natural fibers such as organic cotton, bamboo, and hemp.
- Washing by hand and air drying rather than using a washing machine and dryer.
The process of converting plastic bottles and other types of plastic waste into clothing is widely known as downcycling.
Plastics are polymers of chemical substances (units) linked together as a straight chain or as cross-links. They can be molded into solid objects. PVC, polyethylene, and melamine are examples of plastics.
Nylon can be recycled into a regenerated fabric called Econyl. Recycled nylon is used to make a wide variety of products, including clothing, hosiery, lingerie, and swimwear.
Clothes made from plastic materials are a way to decrease waste in landfills and give plastic materials like discarded bottles, bags, and fishing lines a new purpose. In general, plastic is an incredible material. It is durable and resilient making it great for clothes, apart from ones that will end up in our oceans and stay there for decades, if not centuries. It’s therefore really important that we try to use plastic clothes for longer-term projects and limit overproduction and overconsumption, and the possibility of tiny polluting particulate matter heading into our waters.
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