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Clothing Made from Recycled Plastic: Recycling Never Looked So Good

Turning bottles into fabric, giving single-use plastics a second chance

Clothing Made from Recycled Plastic: Recycling Never Looked So Good

Turn your back on plastic waste, upcycle your life.

With plastic production at an all-time high, nearly half of which is only intended to be used once, it is more important than ever to repurpose our recyclables. Did you know most plastics can only be recycled a handful of times before they can no longer be reused? Then off to the landfill it goes. Repurposing our trash into multi-use treasures offers a valuable solution to our currently limited recycling system. Converting existing plastic waste into more practical goodies like clothing made from recycled materials has continued to be an effective way to reduce the impact of single-use plastics on the environment.

clothing made from bottles
Plastics has become a staple of modern living, but single-use disposable lifestyles pose a great threat to the health of our ecosystem and waterways. Photo credit: Repreve

Some plastics can be converted into building materials or fuel sources. The number of ways recycling can be done is virtually boundless, but America simply doesn't have the facilities necessary to process all types of synthetic polymer waste. This essential extension, referred to as “advanced recycling,” has the potential to significantly expand the market for discarded plastic.

repreve recycling factory
Advanced recycling facilities like the REPREVE Recycling Center, seen here, take plastic bottles and repurpose them into sustainable fabrics. Photo credit: Repreve

While plastic is a necessity, paving the way for ground-breaking advancements in life-saving medical supplies and revolutionary inventions like plexiglass and Kevlar, new methods of plastic production and recycling need to be industry standard. Proper removal and thoughtful reuse of petroleum-based plastics should be a top priority to prevent further global contamination. The combination of increased traditional recycling and advanced recycling can open doors for the recovery of all plastic waste.

Tackling Single-Use Plastics: How Plastic is Repurposed into Fabric

single-use plastic bottle waste
According to Earth Day organizers, 1 million plastic bottles are purchased worldwide every minute, most of which never make it to the recycling center. Photo credit: Repreve.

When recycling isn't limited to direct reproduction of the same products (eg. Cans melted and reformed into new cans), the possibilities for recycling expand significantly. It also helps us get the most from materials that aren't infinitely recyclable, making them go as far as possible before they reach the end of their recycling lifespan.

A great place to initiate the recycling process is confronting the largest contributor of plastic pollution, Polyethylene Terephthalate, or PET, which is commonly used in single-use plastics. Luckily, PET can easily be upcycled into durable fabrics. Companies like Huk are doing the heavy lifting for us, unveiling the Waypoint Collection, a line of clothing exclusively made from recycled plastic bottles.

recycled plastic chip
Recycled plastic and polyester are combined to form recycled "chip." Photo credit: Repreve

But how do we get from water bottles to a whole outfit? Well, it's a process, taking multiple weeks after receiving the materials to get to a final product. At the REPREVE Recycling Center in North Carolina, a combination of recycled polyester and plastic is broken down, reprocessed and pulse dried to create small plastic pebbles called “chip.” The chip is then melted down into a molten concoction before it is filtered and pushed through tiny holes, creating a fine fiber, roughly 5 times thinner than the width of a human hair.

how plastic is recycled to make fabric
As the molten plastic is pushed though tiny pinholes, it cools instantly and fine fibers are formed. Photo credit: Repreve

These strands are bundled together and buffeted with air to entangle the filaments. The resulting yarn is then spooled, but it's not finished quite yet. At this point, a shirt made from this material would feel like wearing a woven dental floss sweater. Multi-purpose, possibly, but maybe not so wearable.

how plastic is recycled to make clothing
Fabric made from recycled plastic is surprisingly versatile.Photo credit: Repreve

To soften the threads, machinery pulls the yarn over heated rubber rollers, stretching and realigning the molecules. More equipment twists and respools the strands, which now more closely resembles wool than orthodontal supplies. From here, the yarn is ready to be dyed and spun into sustainable apparel.

Choosing Outdoorsman-Approved Recycled Apparel: How Does it Compare?

shirts made from plastic bottles
The Men's Waypoint hoodies and shirts range from S to XXXL and come in Lichen, Silver Blue, Fallen Rock, Fusion Coral and Grey. Left, hoodie in grey, right, shirt in silver blue.

Since 2017, the demand for clothing derived from recycled plastic has increased at about five times the previous rate.  Meaning there is a decent amount available on the market, but not all are created equal. Particularly in the affordability department, many brands boasting triple-digit price points. The Huk Waypoint Collection seemed to check all the boxes for the average outdoorsman, but remained in a comfortable price range. Shirts rang in at a cool $50 and hoodies only a fiver more. Each item is comprised of nine plastic bottles woven into a versatile material that sports moisture wicking as well as adaptive warming and cooling. Surprisingly soft and incredibly lightweight, the line is comfortable to wear even in the blazing heat.

recycled plastic clothing for fishermen
Features like quick drying, moisture wicking and the strongest sun protection on the market make days on the water so much more enjoyable.

Small features and attention to detail are the factors that took the brand over the top for outdoor activities. For those of us using them on the water, the fabric dries quickly and has hydrophobic qualities to transports water and sweat away from the skin. Elastic bands on the wrists of the tops allow wearers to roll up their sleeves and keep them in place, simultaneously making stretched out cuffs a thing of the past. Each item in the lineup also supports a 50+ UPF sun rating as well as fabric protection to prevent staining you're likely to encounter outdoors.

best recycled plastic clothing
Brushed cotton appearance and elastic around the wrists are nice touches.

Sportsmen don't get to have all the fun alone; the line also has options for sportswomen as well. If slim-fit sun protection and muted pastels are your jam, the Women's Waypoint lineup is a great place to start your recycling journey.

womens clothing made from recycled plastic bottles
Seafoam is the color of choice for this angler, but grey, fusion coral and pink lady are additional color options for the women's fits.

The Waypoint Collection is some of the highest-rated and affordable recycling-based performance apparel on the market, garnering significant attention from sportsmen looking to lower their footprint without compromising functionality. It's likely the Waypoint Collection will be one of the best-selling apparel-based gifts this Holiday season, particularly for outdoorsy families with sustainability on the mind.

How Can You Help?

recycled fishing apparel
Do your best to always retrieve snagged lures and lines. Fishing gear accounts for about 10% of ocean plastic pollution.

Strive to live sustainably and support companies that reflect your goals. Buy apparel made of recycled plastics. Avoid single-use plastics, but if you must, purchase bioplastics made from natural compounds. Learn what you can recycle and how to properly dispose of each item. Utilize reusable bags and bottles. Don't bag your fruits and veggies (you're going to wash them anyway, hopefully). Buy digital movie copies and opt for paperless billing. Participate in ocean and beach cleanups. Skip the straw. Spread awareness.

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