Henk Hansler, director general of Petcore, the European PETcontainer recycling organisation, comments on the remarkable progress in the use ofrecycled PET in clothing manufacturing and briefly takes a look at two companies currentlyusing the recycled plastic as an alternative material.

Over the years, while designers have lookedfor new and innovative materials to show on the catwalk, manufacturers have consistentlyresearched new and alternative processes which will have less impact on the environmentwithout sacrificing the quality of the clothing they produce.

Meeting both consumer and environmentalrequirements is not always easy. However, technology has provided manufacturers with asolution — the humble plastic drinks bottle.

The soft drinks industry is the primaryconsumer of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) container resin. Made from a fully recyclableplastic, PET drinks bottles can be diverted from landfill and, if collected in largevolumes, kept separate from other materials, and then broken down and recycled, they canbe used to create products for a variety of end-markets. It is also environmentallysensible to do this.

Figures from Petcore show that the amountof PET plastic containers collected and recycled in Europe is increasing at a rate of 40per cent each year, far outstripping the 10 per cent average annual growth in virgin PETusage. In 1997, in Europe alone, some 105,000 tons (approximately 1.72 billion bottles)were collected to be given a new lease of life by cosmetics, toiletries, textiles andpackaging manufacturers, as well as construction and automotive industries.

Momentum for recovering and re-using PET isstill gathering speed. The number of collection schemes is increasing and consumers arereturning greater numbers of containers. Quality and efficiency of sorting systems isimproving and the variety of end use applications continues to expand.

Garment Potential

The clothing industry is one industry whichhas the potential to exploit this growing supply of recycled material.

Patagonia has been manufacturing clothingspecially designed for outdoor enthusiasts for 25 years and is a popular choice amongclimbers, skiers and kayakists around the world.

Patagonia monitors its environmental impactand has invested in research to develop more environmentally friendly production methods.One of its major innovations has been the development of PCR (Post Consumer Recycled)Synchilla fleeces in 1993.

The fleece material produced is developedfrom used soft drinks bottles. Collected through recycling schemes, either at depots or bydoorstep collection, they are transported to recycling facilities to be washed, choppedand converted into flakes.

The flakes are then melted and extrudedinto fine fibres before being compressed and baled, ready for transportation to a mill forknitting, dying and manufacturing into the PCR fabric.

PCR fabric has the same properties asfleece made from virgin polyester chips. For example, it keeps the wearer warm, even whenwet, because polyester is hydrophobic and refuses to absorb the water, ensuring that thefabric maintains its loft and continues to insulate. Another key benefit is that it isbreathable, allowing moisture and perspiration to escape, thereby keeping the wearercomfortable and smelling fresh!

Environmental Benefits

Not only is fleece an effective andfashionable material, but using recycled bottles to manufacture it also has soundenvironmental benefits. Every PCR garment uses approximately 25 bottles and keeps themfrom landfill. Patagonia has released data that shows how, from spring 1993 to spring1996, over 54 million bottles were diverted from landfill thanks to the production of itsfleeces. In turn, this conserves almost 600,000 barrels of oil and keeps about 300,000tons of emissions out of the atmosphere.

Another popular manufacturer currentlyproducing clothing from recycled plastic bottles is Malden Mills. Committed toenvironmental best practice, Malden Mills used post-consumer recycled PET bottles todevelop a series of Polartec branded fabrics for outdoor clothing in 1993. Today thesefabrics represent approximately 25 per cent of all Polartec fabrics produced by thecompany.

The process starts at Wellman RecyclingFacilities and community recycling centres across the UK, where the PET containers aresorted, baled and shipped to processors to be made into fibre. The Polartec RecycledSeries fabric contains from 89 to 100 per cent post-consumer recycled bottle content and,like Patagonia clothing, the fabric used is specially engineered to keep the wearer dry,warm and protected regardless of activity or location.

Not only does fabric produced from recycledsoft drinks bottles make very high performance and fashionable clothing, it also allowsmanufacturers to achieve their environmental requirements. Who knows? One day, we all maybe wearing ‘greener’ garments.