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Clothing made from locally sourced river plastic

Researchers at the Dutch Saxion University of Applied Sciences developed 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, though that is up for debate. However, 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

Comments

  1. Peter Hornung says:

    Hello and congrats to this project. We from the brand ROUND RIVERS know very well how difficult this project is. Since 2020, we source river plastics from the Swiss river Limmat and turn it locally into upcycled clothing (Swimwear and winter jackets). Our production takes place within a radius of only 140km and has a CO2-positive footprint. So there should be a little correction on your text. 🙂 We would be thankful, if you could adjust it. 🙂

    Furthermore, I think it is relevant for a sustainable future to think also about what happens to the garments after end of use. To make use of the garments in the future, one should focus to use only mono materials – in this case Polyester. The benefit is that it can be melted down and reused again and again. Mixing it up like the researchers from Saxion University results in garments that cannot be reused again. For a circular future in the textile industry, we have to improve our designs and work mono materials only.

    Please feel free to contact us if you would like to catch up on this conversation. We would be happy to do so! 🙂
    Best, Peter

  2. Klara Otte says:

    I am curious, how much microplastics are shed into the water wears and through skin contact? Is not PET the one plastic that is considered to be in a loop, so creating a textile is ending that recycling loop? Further, does this not give an argument to the plastic producing industry to just keep producing?
    Don’t get me wrong, cleaning rivers and waterways is necessary and important but bottom line is we have to get rid of plastics for good.