The material in a plastic bottle is too useful to end up in landfill. Just to think, those few plastic bottles chucked into then could be turned into a brand new piece of clothing, identical to anything in your favourite store! Sounds impressive but how is it actually done?
Below we go through the step by step process that every bottle goes on to be turned into a brand new fabric:
Plastic bottle collection
Before anything else, the plastic bottles that we will use to create our RPET have to be collected. This may be done by your local council or by a private company. With more initiatives created to make recycling easier, total PET recycling in the UK has jumped from 3% to 60% over the last ten years.
Plastic bottle baling
After the bottles are collected they are crushed together into cubes known as “bales” making it easier for them to be transported to a sorting plant.
NIR (Infrared) Sorting
Once the bales arrive at the sorting plant they are broken down and passed through sorting machines to remove anything that has been wrongly recycled. Anything that wrongly slips through the net will affect the quality of the final product, so the sorting process is vital. In high quality sorting centres infrared scanners will be used to find bottles that may look compliant but actually contain impurities such as sports drinks with silicone caps.
“Did you know?” There are no worldwide rules on what bottles can be used in RPET. In order to cut costs, many sorting centres will use PET products that are only “semi-compliant” by EPBP standards. This means they conatin some PET but also many other impurities. Examples include containers and microwavable pots. At Greener Fabrics, nothing but fully compliant bottles go into our RPET. This means we are able to guarantee some of the lowest impurity levels in the industry, and ultimately the highest quality final product to you.
The remaining plastic bottles are now sorted by colour. If you were to leave coloured PET bottles in with clear ones the final colour of the fabric produced would be affected.
Flake chopping and washing
The plastic bottles are now crushed into small flakes by large cutting machines. The flakes now pass through a liquid solution to remove any labels and glue from the original bottle. As a final filtering section, the PET flakes will float on the liquid while any remaining contaminants will sink leaving behind clean, pure PET flakes.
After drying, the flakes are stretched out and then chopped into small pieces known as PET pellets. From there, these pallets can be used for a variety of different purposes – from clothing to loft insulation to new water bottles. Just this year Evian commited to all bottles being made from RPET by 2025.
Yarn spinning and garment manufacturing
These pellets are now passed through a “spinnerate” that heats and then stretches the pellets into very fine string-like fibers. Thousands of these fibers are then tied together, creating the start of a polyester yarn. At this point the fiber will appear fluffy, almost like a cotton bud. The fiber will be smoothed, stretched out and placed on a large reel, ready to be sent to a fabric producer to create a final product. If made to a high standard the fiber should be almost perfectly white. Any colour impurities suggest that impurities have evaded the sorting process.
Plastic bottle collection
The final garment producer will then receive the RPET reels and apply any dye or finishes they need to make their garment, whether that is a fleece jacket, a football t-shirt or a business suit. Should the RPET be made to a high standard, the final product will be exactly the same as if it were made from regular polyester – except plastic bottles were used instead of crude oil!