As the world struggles to cope with plastic waste, we continue to rely on virgin resources for most textile production. With billions of plastic bottles in production, making clothing from recycled PET provides a sustainable means to manage plastic, while mitigating the negative effects of the textile industry on the environment.
DGrade has been supplying sustainably made Greenspun™ clothing produced from recycled plastic bottles since 2010. Sustainability has become a much higher priority in the Middle East since the company started, but more action is still needed especially in sustainable sourcing.
Environmental impact of textile industry
Traditional means of textile production are not sustainable. The textile industry accounts for 10% of carbon emissions produced annually, contributes to pollution, and relies heavily on resources for production.
Cotton, for example, requires a large amount of land for crop cultivation, vast quantities of water and pesticides and fertilisers to grow. This contributes to the pollution of waterways and the utilisation of land better used for growing food crops. At the same time virgin polyester is also in high demand with more than 60 million metric tonnes produced annually, yet it also drains resources including oil, water, and energy. Producing yarn from recycled plastic bottles diverts plastic from landfills and saves 55% carbon emissions, 50% energy, 20% water, and uses no oil, compared to making conventional polyester yarn.
At the end of the life of any product, all parties from the manufacturer to the consumer must take responsibility for its disposal, with an aim to keep the product in the circular economy. By working with local textile charities and recyclers, it is possible to reuse and recycle clothing and apparel to extend it’s lifecyle.
Plastic ‘waste’ is a resource
The belief that all plastics are bad, and we need to rid the world of plastic, is due to the spread of misinformation. Scientific studies show that plastic is one of the most sustainable packaging options, producing fewer carbon emissions and using less energy in manufacturing compared to its alternatives, such as glass and aluminium. Combine this with the fact that plastic is low cost, hygienic and is used to make a wide variety of essential items, banning it is hard to justify. Global consumption of all packaging should be reduced. But even by changing behaviours and reducing plastic production there would still be billions of plastic items that need to be dealt with. Upcycling plastic into yarn provides a sustainable solution for plastic with 20-plus plastic bottles going into the production of one t-shirt.
Recycled products offer the same high quality and versatility as their conventional counterparts. Although recycled products are becoming more common, there are concerns that recycled products do not offer the same quality as their conventional counterparts. Recycling technology has improved dramatically over the last decade and as with any product there are cheaply made, low quality products and better made, quality products.
When a high-quality yarn is produced, a more durable and longer wearing garment can be made, improving the lifespan of a garment. Polyester yarn made from recycled plastic bottles is also versatile. It can be used to produce more than 250 different types of fabric, with the option of specialised features such as anti-bacterial, UV protection, moisture wicking, and more.
An opportunity for businesses
In addition to addressing environmental concerns, there are many benefits to organisations to source sustainably: Demonstrate leadership in innovation and sustainability; Attract sustainable finance investment; Mitigate environmental impact by reducing carbon emissions, reducing pollution, lowering energy consumption, and reliance on natural resources; Deliver on ESG commitments as customers become savvier and demand tangible evidence to back up environmental claims; Reduce Risk via industry compliance and regulations and get ahead of regulations which could result in penalties and stay ahead of industry competition; and create longterm value and identify new opportunities by improving an organisation’s ESG rating.
Upcycling plastic into textiles is an effective way to manage plastic waste and reduce the environmental impact of textile manufacturing. However, this requires participation from consumers, manufacturers, businesses, and governments to support the supply chain from plastic recovery through purchasing recycled products. Only in this way can we truly address climate change and plastic pollution.
Emma Barber is the Managing Director of DGrade.