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Nonwovens & Technical Textiles
  Recycled PET bottles... A Journey from Outerwear to Fashionwear

What will be common in the uniforms of the nine teams of World Cup Soccer pet bottles! The jersey worn by the players will be made out of recycled plastic, an endorsement to the use of recycled plastic bottles in the clothing industry, which is being supported worldwide as a variable sustainable initiative to protect the environment. The textile recycling process receives a thumps up from nearly all consumers for saving natural resources while protecting the environment; In case of PET bottles reprocessing, the advantages to the ecology are even greater. To what extent an intercontinental PET bottles recycling can be climate-protecting and environment-friendly is a matter of intense debate worldwide.

Even if most of the fashion manufacturers aren't socially and environmentally motivated to reduce their own impact on the environment, consumer sentiment may sway them in the right direction. According to Marks & Spencer, 85% of its surveyed customers claimed that the company's initiatives towards PET bottles recycled products have made them happier to shop at the store.

A Sustainable Initiative
Fabric made from recycled PET bottles is currently priced at more than US $ 3.87 per kilogram, making it pricier than other synthetic fibres. Still, more and more world's famous brands are using such fabric in their products because it brightens their environmental image. Some of the innovations that are leading the industry in recycled PET bottles include Australian surf and skate brand Billabong's Eco Supreme Suede.

Five million plastic bottles that could have been choking marine life or filling up landfills have been given a second chance. Billabong extends its green charge to include a new material called Eco Supreme Suede, a material made from recycled textiles and plastic soda bottles (PET). This exclusive material is used to create sleek surf shorts and bikinis. Approximately 10 plastic soda bottles are used to create a single pair of boardshorts. These trashed liquid containers are collected, inspected and stripped of their caps and labels and then granulated into small plastic flakes. Through a process called polymerisation, the granules are dried and then made into a polyester fibre, the main material of Eco Supreme Suede.

PET Bottle Recycling: Cash the Trash
As demand increases, the marketplace will foster more incentives for consumers to recycle PET. As of 2005, 23.1% of the 5.075 billion tonnes of PET bottles produced in the US were collected for recycling. This percentage is likely to grow as consumers become more educated and more countries adopt legislation to use the SPI's easily recognisable “Chasing arrows” symbol for PET bottles so that consumers find it easier to know-how to recycle them. Some states in the US have already implemented financial incentives for consumers to bring in plastic bottles for recycling, and others have encouraged “Curbside” collection to make recycling easier for the average citizen.

The European Union has been more aggressive in PET bottles recycling legislation. In 2001, all EU countries were required to meet a 15% plastic packaging recycling target, and by 2011 the experts say it will increase to 25%.

The PET bottles recycling industry has caught up fast in Asia in recent years especially in China followed by Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia. During 2006, China bought 3.9 million tonnes of PET-waste from across the globe to have cheaper manufacturing of synthetic fibre. The Taiwan Textile Research Institute (TTRI) estimates that about 100,000 tonnes of PET bottles are collected for recycling in Taiwan each year to be processed into yarn for weaving into fabrics.

How plastic is converted into yarn to weave or knit fabric and converting it into garment or home furnishing products is an interesting transition. It actually happens by re-melting the PET bottles and then thick material is pressed through spinnerets, leaving them as filaments - just like in case of the production of virgin synthetic fibres. Filaments can be used as endless yarns or curled and cut into length-defined fibres for spinning. After weaving, the fabric is converted into garment, preferably fleece pullovers, jackets or sweatshirts.

The recycled PET thread or yarn can be used either alone or together with other fibres to create a very wide variety of fabrics. Traditionally these fabrics were used to create strong, durable and rough products, such as jackets, coat, shoes, bags, hats and accessories. However, these fabrics are too rough on the skin and could cause irritation. Therefore, they are not used on any clothing that may irritate the skin, or where comfort is required. But in today's new eco-friendly world, there has been more of a demand for “Green” products. As a result, many clothing companies have started looking for ways to take advantage of this new market and new innovations in different ways to process the fabric, to use the fabric, or blend the fabric with other materials for better finish so as to be more wearer-friendly.

India Cued into the Trend
In India as well there are companies, which have put up PET phase capacities. As per the estimates, India produces 500,000 tonnes of pet waste every year and due to increasing use of pet bottles in daily consumption, the amount of waste is going to grow by leaps and bounds. At present, the total recycling capacity in India is around 145,000 TPA, out of which Reliance Industries Ltd. has a capacity of 42,000 TPA and Kanpur-based Ganesh Polytex Ltd (GPL) has a capacity of around 39,600 TPA and rest is with other small local players.

Presently GPL is recycling about 1.4 billion PET bottles annually at its Rudrapur plant where the bottles are first cleaned and then sent to shredders and grinders to reduce them to flakes. The flakes are forwarded to the cleaning section for a series of sorting and washing process performed with chemicals to remove any residual.

Once the flakes are dried up, they pass through a process called electrostatic separator, which produces magnetic field to separate PET flakes from metal, besides different kinds of plastic particles and other contaminations. The cleaned flakes of reclaimed PET are then forwarded to production section for the final product to produce fibre. According to Gopal Agarwal, CFO, GPL, the sorting and processing of raw material is a key factor for maintaining uniform quality of finished product on constant basis as raw material is not having uniform characteristics, and quality of finished goods may have significant degree of variations. “The major customers for our PET recycled fibre are spinning mills like Birla Cotsyn, Chenab Textiles, Orient Syntex to mention a few. The end use of this recycled fibre is - spun yarn, hosiery yarn, blended woollen yarn and technical textiles,” shares Gopal.

The yarn produced out of the recycled fibre is being exported as well as being sold in the domestic market. Delhi-based Orient Syntex is exporting its yarn to Malaysia and in the domestic market it is selling its yarn through agents in Erode, Tirupur, Salem, etc. who are selling these yarns to companies like Export Tex, Javan Knits Garments, etc.

According to Gautam Sureka of Eastern Silk Industries, Kolkata which has gone for a joint venture with an Italian company SATI to manufacture technical textiles in India for industrial wear, the recycled PET fibre has not picked up so much in India for textile purpose as it is a very expensive process and there is yet no real demand for the same. “The fabric made out of the PET fibre is basically polypropylene and it is ten times stronger than a normal polyester fabric. But to weave or knit the yarn made out of PET bottles needs very heavy machines and till now Europeans have mastered in this technology and the looms/knitting machines are very expensive,” points out Gautam. However, the company is exploring the possibility of manufacturing PETbased fabrics in India.

Though it is still early, buyers have started showing interest. While interacting with various buying offices like Ahlens, JCPenney, to mention some, they are looking at recycled PET as an alternate to man-made fibre. Says Richard James, Head Ahlens India, “On my recent visit to Thailand, I met a company which is making yarn out of PET, I found the product very interesting and I am now looking at developing fabric with this yarn to do some product development in home furnishing items like for rugs and carpets.” Whatever developments in PET yarn Richard found in Thailand was in thicker count and not finer counts which can be used for making garment. JCPenney too is looking for PET yarn and fabric makers in Taiwan.

As things are moving it would not take too long for fabrics made out of PET bottles to get popular with consumers especially for industrial garment and sportswear. The demand of course has to percolate from the buyers' end and when there is demand, the developments will take place. How soon the concept spreads, that is still to be speculated as the technology is expensive but then it's environment-friendly preposition which is buyer's first concern; However, it also contradicts their belief that it is not organic and cannot be organic.

(Courtesy: www.contify.com)

published July , 2010
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