December 28, 2016

Recycling 101: What happens to your pile of recyclable plastic bottles?

While it is better to try to cut down what we use (particularly those dreadful plastic bottles) and not add to the piles of garbage, it is heartening to know that there are a few processes to make something wanted out of our plastic bottles.

Hats, fleecy clothing, blankets and zippy bags for toiletries or travel can be made from old plastic bottles quite simply melted, and spun into yarn.

The most successful of these is a place called Bionic Yarn in New York. They are a textile manufacturing company that now harvests raw material to produce premium yarns and fabrics. Then they send these tough yarns and materials to leading manufacturers to make durable backpacks, luggage, handbags and various kinds of apparel. Moncler, Gap and Mountain Hardware are just a few.

First sort the bottles (for colour), clean them and throw them in a vat. They are then liquefied under high temperatures higher than 250 degrees celsius. Terephthalic acid, (derived from petroleum) reacts with ethylene glycol (also from petrol) under very high temperatures to create a polymer. This virgin plastic is then mixed with the liquefied plastic. The mixture cools to a syrup and then forced through a spinneret which is just a metal disk with holes (as in a shot-tower). If you have ever made spun toffee, you will know how to do that part.

Then usable yarn is made by covering that PET (recycled plastic) core-spun yarn in a helix formation with two surface filament layers arranged in opposite directions. This creates a counter-force on each component which binds them together. Remember that old Chinese finger trap made of raffia? In that puzzle, the weave is so flexible and cunning that it closes over your finger and tightens and only by pushing it in an opposite direction to the holes can you release its grasp. This creates an extremely tough, resistant fabric. The alternate fibres used in the core and the helix of bionic hlx yarn are nylon, high tenacity polyester, lycra, and cotton. The pile can be re-processed to have a velvet finish (napping) or high-wicking or water-proofed.

  • It takes around 25 bottles to make an adult sized jacket.
  • It is lighter than wool but just as warm.
  • It is highly flammable (unlike wool which is resistant).
  • It dries fast and doesn’t pill.

BUT the recycling process is done at high temperatures and the furnaces would have a large carbon output. It is STILL better not to buy that plastic bottle in the first place. Sheep still make a pretty good sustainable product – wool – and it is quite easy to raise a sheep and feed it just on harvested grasses from a suburban block (hey, a living lawnmower!)
However, I was given a terrific gift of a ski hat made in Oregon in the USA from these fibres. I have often used it as a shopping bag as it is so tough and always regains its ‘hat’ shape after being filled with groceries!

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