Some plastics can be readily transformed to have a new life as a completely different object. Commonly, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) drinks bottles can be recycled into polyester filaments which are spun into yarn for the production of textiles. This not only diverts single use plastics away from landfill but also reduces industry’s reliance on virgin material derived from fossil fuels. PET for recycling can also be gathered from manufacturing waste and recycled garments. Recycled PET requires significantly less energy to produce when mechanically processed, compared to virgin polyester. Mechanical recycling simply washes, shreds and flakes (1). The material is then melted, extruded and spun into traditonal fibres (2) for textile making. This mechanical process results in some loss of strength so the recycled material is often combined with virgin fibre. A more costly chemical process sees waste product returned to its original monomers, making a material that is indistinguishable from virgin fibre. The ultimate aim of the industry is to create a closed loop system, continuously recycling polyester.
In 2007, Marks & Spencer became the first retailer to offer schoolwear made from recycled bottles (3 - 4). More recently, Adidas have produced a range of garments including this ‘Own the Run’ hoodie made from 100% recycled polyester (5).
Recycled materials also lend themselves to handmade processes. The blanket by Weaver Green (6) uses around 300 PET bottles which have been recycled into a soft, wool like yarn which is then handwoven. In the first three years of business the company recycled approximately 70 million plastic bottles.
Textile designer Laura Anne Marsden has unlocked the potential of the beleaguered polyethylene carrier bag by transforming it into this ‘Eternal Lace’ ruff (7). Using a combination of traditional hand stitching and needle lace-making, Marsden creates jewellery and other decorative pieces. Recycling carrier bags in this way challenges preconceptions about an otherwise maligned object.