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How a Plastic Bottle Becomes Fabric

Blog | September 30, 2016

Yes, it's true. Most of the recycled polyester we use originates from plastic water and soda bottles. While it sounds pretty unbelievable that a hard drinking container can turn into soft fabric, it's actually a relatively simple process and is used often in our industry as well as the clothing industry. This is the story of how a plastic bottle is turned into fabric.

First, this only applies to fabric that is made of post-consumer recycled content. See here for the differences between post and pre consumer reycled content. Once a product has served its purpose and is recycled it is considered post-consumer content. Like park benches made from milk jugs or in this case, bottles into textiles. 53% of our products are made from 100% recycled material, and are also recycleable at the end of their useful life. 86% of our products contain recycled content in some form or another.

The first step in the process is to collect the bottles that will be turned into fabric. This is obviously reliant on municpal recycling programs. Once the bottles are collected, the clear bottles are separated out from the other colored bottles. Clear bottles will create white yarn, and colored bottles will naturally create green yarn, or whatever color the bottle was.

The next step is to shred the bottles into tiny pieces and separate out the caps and labels from the bottle material. The cap of a soda or water bottle is actually a different kind of plastic than the PET bottle itself. After this the shredded material is dried.

Above Left: The top of the disc the heated plastic is forced through. Above Right: The bottom. If you look closely you can see the tiny holes where the molten polyester is extruded.

Now it is time for the shredded bits to start their transformation into something that can be used again. This happens with a machine called an extruder. The plastic is heated and forced through tiny holes which resembles something like a showerhead to create fibers. The fibers are fine, long continuous strands. Next, they are torn apart into short pieces so the fiber isn't continuous strands. It's then bailed and is finally ready to be turned into yarn. At this point the fiber very closely resembles wool, as seen below.

Above: Dyed and blended polyester that is ready to be carded and spun into yarn. Notice how similar it looks to wool.

Above: Lots of metal "needles" like a hairbrush spin around on various drums to align the fibers in the same direction.

The final steps in turning the bottles into yarn can now occur. This consists of carding, which is a machine that aligns all the fibers in the same direction, and then a spinning machine that actually makes the yarn.

Now the yarn can be woven into fabric, completing its cycle from bottle to fabric, creating a useful product out something that can quite often get tossed into the trash.