Daily life 6 min
Fashion: plastics have style
Plastics and fashion are a perfect match, and that is nothing new! Initially used for their modernity, their practicality and elasticity soon became their most sought-after characteristics. For some years now, designers have taken an interest in recycled plastics for their ever-modern and ecological side.
Fashion: plastics have style
Fashion: plastics have style

Sustainable Solutions: Plastics are also in the game

Textiles have more than one trick in their bag

It has become crucial to reduce one’s ecological footprint in order to face future climate challenges. Faced with the alarm bell that has been ringing for years, the wealth of both industrial and individual projects shows that many want to act concretely and quickly. The textile and plastics industries are obviously making their own efforts.

© Freitag

Freitag, a brand that needs no introduction among dedicated followers of fashion, made a name for itself by recovering used vinyl truck tarpaulins to make bags and luggage, thereby guaranteeing that each model is unique!

First of all, although it is not new, there is the practice called upcycling. This is the first step in the circular economy. The purpose of upcycling is to recover objects often considered as waste and give them a new life by modifying them. Thus, items such as granny’s old-fashioned Tergal curtains can be turned into a superbly fashionable playsuit. Small craft businesses often develop around this practice, and the best manage to make a nice reputation for themselves in their local areas. That said, there are also major success stories such as the Swiss Freitag company which has managed to make its bags made from vinyl truck tarpaulins into highly sought-after items around the world. These initiatives are certainly interesting and often creative but they only involve a few tonnes of waste materials. A drop of water in the ocean, and it is for this reason that industrialists and scientists are seeking out other solutions. 

© Adidas

Adidas ignited international buzz by marketing a pair of sneakers made from used PET bottles.

PET, the star of the runways

Converting used plastics into new materials is not exactly a new development. Manufacturers of “polar” textiles have been doing this for many years. Nevertheless, the phenomenon is gaining momentum and manufacturers are looking further afield to find alternatives to polar fibres. The trend currently taking hold in Europe is that of ethical fashion.

Although style and quality remain essential values, consumers are increasingly interested in the origins and composition of textiles. Fashion is gradually moving away from its frivolous image. The Belgian JBC company, for instance, should be commended for now offering raincoats made entirely from recycled PET bottles. The slightly better-known Swedish brand H&M is also a pioneer in the industry. Although the textile fibres it uses also come from PET bottles, the bottles they use were all collected from beaches. Their new collection was made using a specific spinning technique that makes the new fibre extremely flexible and gives it an airy appearance. The centrepiece of the collection is undoubtedly the pleated dress in a very delicate tone of pink. The Swedish brand partnered with American start-up BionicYarn, a specialist in the field of processing end-of-life plastics, to make its clothes. This is not a first for the recently-founded company as it has already collaborated with other brands such as G-star and O'Neill, and even with celebrities such as Pharrell Williams, to create various fashion accessories such as sunglasses in particular.

Haute couture is no exception and, as fashion dictates, it has often been at the forefront of new developments. For example, Japan's Issey Miyake was one of the first to use recycled PET, which he combined with virgin polyester to design his 132 5 clothing line, and that was back in 2010.

By partnering with the NGO Parley for Ocean, manufacturer Adidas also made headlines by providing such prestigious teams as Bayern Munich and Real Madrid (as well as Juventus Turin and Manchester United) with jerseys woven entirely from recycled PET fibres from bottles collected on beaches. Clear evidence that highly technical clothing can be designed using recycled plastics. Sure of its success, the "three-band brand" used the same approach to manufacture sports shoes. The recently-launched sneakers are already a " must-have", despite the price tag.

Facilitating the recycling of synthetic textiles

Adidas, which is decidedly at the forefront of green marketing, did not hesitate to call on designer Stella McCartney to design a range of swimwear also made from recycled plastics including used fishing nets. It should be noted that a large net can be used to make 1,000 swimsuits! The swimsuits were designed to be both durable and comfortable. Thus, they are woven from polyurethane fibres better known by their trade name of Lycra mixed with fibres of Econyl®, a polymer made from marine litter such as fishing nets. It should also be noted that the swimsuits can in turn be recycled upon reaching the end of their lifecycle.

As has been shown, many brands are increasingly considering plastic waste as a resource. Last April, Adidas unveiled a beta version of a new 100% recyclable shoe. The major novelty is not the shoe itself, but rather the underlying business model. Once the shoe has reached the end of its lifecycle, it can be returned to the manufacturer who will then convert it into granules that will be re-used to produce a new pair of shoes. This is one more step towards the virtuous circular economy and therefore towards a zero-waste economy.

Finding an infinitely-recyclable polymer is one of the major areas of research in industrial and university laboratories. At the faculty of Berkeley in the United States, things are moving forward and it would seem that a new polymer could be developed in a matter of months. Currently known as polydiketoenamine or PDK, this revolutionary plastic can be disassembled at the molecular level, then reassembled without loss of performance or quality.

Photo: image bank

An infinitely recyclable polymer could soon become a reality according to one of the laboratories at Berkeley University in the United States.

Another point of interest is that additives could easily be removed during the recycling period using a simple process. It is said that the material could simply be soaked in a highly acidic solution to break the bonds between the monomers and separate them from the chemical additives. The researchers now plan to develop PDK with broad thermal and mechanical properties for applications as diverse as textiles, 3D printing and foams. All that remains is to move into the industrial development phase and to set up an efficient system for recovering used plastics, although this is not generally easy to achieve.

Synthetic CO2-based fibres

Some projects may seem far-fetched, even utopian, and yet German polymer producer Covestro has for many years investigated the possibilities for producing CO2-based plastics in order to be able to stop using hydrocarbons. The company has already succeeded in developing Cardyon®, a polyurethane foam made from CO2. It is sold and used to make mattresses and sports facility floors. Recently, collaborating with the University of Aachen, also located in Germany, Covestro went even further by creating a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) fibre that is also CO2-based. This new fibre has rather exceptional elastic properties and is mostly virtually tear-proof. Companies in the textile and medical sectors have already tested it by weaving socks and compression tubes from the fibre. Initial tests have been promising and the fibre’s forthcoming launch should enable clothing manufacturers to significantly reduce their carbon footprint, which is an objective that all European manufacturers have set themselves in order to comply with the Paris Agreement.


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