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Clothing made from locally sourced river plastic

Researchers at the Dutch Saxion University of Applied Sciences developed the first clothing made of locally sourced river plastics.

While some parts of the process have been studied before, Saxion says to be the first to realise the entire procedure, from fishing PET bottles from the river near the Dutch city of Zwolle to the manufacturing of a garment. Not only did they technically realise the project, they also proved it is financially feasible.

Saxion works with the company Clear Rivers, which cleans up rivers, as the name implies. They separate PET plastics from the rest, which is then shredded, cleaned and dried. Using smelt spinning, the material is turned into yarn by Senbis. PET, which stands for PolyEthylene Terephthalate, is molecularly the same what we know as polyester, and is therefore suitable for clothing. After the spinning process, the yarn is woven into fabric in the last weaving mill in Enschede, the Netherlands, A.C. ter Kuile.

In the project, the researchers used river plastics in both the yarn and the buttons of the garment. It consists of 25% PET yarn sourced in the IJssel river near Zwolle. The remaining 75% is currently cotton. However, the proportions can easily be tweaked to be 50/50.

With the current procedure, the extra costs of a blouse are 10 euros per square metre. However, the quality of the yarn is very high as it is very thin, so some savings can be made with thicker yarn.

Making clothing from thin-walled plastics, which includes PET, is one part of a larger project called Post-use Plastic Foil Solutions, in which Saxion partners with local companies to optimise systems to separate, clean and reuse thin-walled plastics, with the aim to viably recycle difficult to recycle plastics.

While the aim to make the production of clothing more sustainable by using recycled plastics is a noble one, plastic clothing, recycled or not, still forms a pollution problem. When washed, plastic-based clothing sheds microfibres made of plastic, also called microplastic, in the environment. Microplastics have been found in the deepest troughs in the ocean, in animals, and even in our own blood and lungs (though there are also environmental and social problems with the use of cotton). But as long as plastics are used in clothing, recycled plastics are of course the better option.

Images: Saxion